Benfica and Chelsea are set to clash in an enticing quarterfinal tie in the Champions League. Both sides overcame deficits in the first knockout stage to reach the quarters. Benfica were 3-2 down to Zenit St. Petersburg before coming away with a 2-0 result at Estadio Da Luz. Chelsea were 3-1 adrift to Napoli before thrilling the Stamford Bridge faithful with a 4-1 triumph over their Italian counterparts to reach this stage.
Benfica are a steady side with occasional flashes of brilliance. Striker Oscar Cardozo is prone to flashes of such brilliance. The Paraguayan International leads the club with 22 goals in all competitions including 4 in the Champions League. Cardozo supplies a deft touch around the net and is darting runs can mesmerize defenders. Collaborating with Cardozo up front is Rodrigo. The Spanish International has only found the back of the net once in the Champions League and many Benfica supporters feel that he needs to create some attack and flow to keep defenders away from Cardozo. It is possible that Nolito could see the pitch as well but his scoring touch has betrayed him so far in Europe.
The general in the midfield is Bruno Cesar. The Brazilian International has scored twice in Europe but is playing with a caution under his belt. Cesar must remain disciplined while still playing a stout physical game to go with his creative attacking. Veteran Pablo Aimar brings experience and reliability in the centre of the midfield. Nicolas Gaitan and Javi Garcia are sturdy holding midfielders.
The back four is a stern group led by team captain Emerson. The Brazilian International is an imposing figure combining strength and intelligence into his game. Luisao, Maxi Pereira and Ezequiel Garay complete this first-class group.
Artur is a quality keeper who brings a positive attitude to the club. There are times he has grappled with his play but when needed, the Brazilian is there to make a clutch save.
Chelsea are going through a never-ending soap opera that has the British tabloids all riled up. Nevertheless, the Blues are a talented side that should never be taken lightly.
One thing is for certain, if striker Didier Drogba is given space, he is one of the most lethal finishers in the world. The Ivory Coast International has missed time due to injury and playing for his country in the African Cup of Nations but still has recorded 4 goals in the Champions League. Drogba is terrific in the air and his physical presence makes him difficult to dispossess the ball. On the other hand Fernando Torres has been calamitous since coming over from Liverpool in a $50 million transfer fee last year. Noted soccer columnist Jerrad Peters has coined the moniker “farmer” for Torres who tends to kick more dirt than the ball. Meanwhile Daniel Sturridge has been performing with greater effect at a lesser price for Chelsea. He should get the call over Torres but I doubt that will happen.
The midfield has also gone through some upheaval but when in tact is a sound group. The erstwhile Frank Lampard continues to produce for Chelsea. His 13 goals in all competitions is tops for the Blues. Lampard has scored twice in the Champions League but his role lately has been more of a player/manager since the firing of Andre Villas-Boras.
Juan Mata is a resourceful asset to Chelsea who can be a midfielder or slide up to forward if need be. He may be an option for Torres up front or play back and create from the centre. Ramires, Raul Meireles, Florent Malouda and John Obi Mikel have all seen quality time on the pitch for Chelsea and interim manager Roberto Di Matteo will have a quandary on his hands on who to start.
The back four is captained by the controversial John Terry. The irascible Brit is known to get under the skin of his opponents and sometimes his teammates as well. The unquestioned leader of the squad, Terry has been even more vocal since the managerial change and like Lampard, has taken a player/manager role himself. The question mark will be the health of Branislav Ivanovic. The Serbian International, who scored the landmark goal that saw Chelsea go through against Napoli, missed the weekend’s game against Tottenham with a thigh strain and is listed as doubtful for the match. Expect Gary Cahill to get the call for Chelsea along with Ashley Cole and David Luiz.
Petr Cech continues to be a stern keeper for Chelsea, even though he’s had more miscues than in previous seasons. Cech is still reliable as a last line of defence and will be called upon to make a crucial save in the tie.
Prediction: Chelsea have more talent but also have more distractions. The first leg in Lisbon will be vital as Estadio Da Luz has become a menacing venue for visitors. If Chelsea can come away with a draw in the first leg, they will have the advantage heading into Stamford Bridge. Benfica are a formidable side who are known to give English sides hardships. Very tough to call but I do see Chelsea narrowly escaping past Benfica and going through to the semifinals.
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