Going into last night’s match against Benfica, Chelsea faced a difficult task. The Portuguese club had not lost a European fixture at home in their last 10 matches and even more worryingly they had scored in every home fixture for the past 3 years. Both records were put to an abrupt end as a great defensive effort from Chelsea stifled the dangerous Benfica attack and grabbed the all important away goal during one of their many counter attacks. The Eagles in Lisbon had their wings clipped by the Lions. The win also signalled Chelsea’s first away win in the competition since beating Copenhagen last year.
Many questioned the starting XI, Roberto Di Matteo had selected. Included were the likes of Paulo Ferreira, Salomon Kalou and a midfield pairing of Raul Meireles and John Obi Mikel. However when the dust had settled, all the selections proved justified. This is not to say it wasn’t hard work, a brilliant display by Ex-Benfica star David Luiz was vital to Chelsea keeping a clean sheet, ‘right place, right time’ would describe his off the line clearance in denying Oscar Cardozo a typical thunderbolt strike, he found himself in the thick of it and came out on top every time, a performance worthy of man of the match. Petr Cech also made a couple of key saves in preventing the ball passing his net, whilst John Terry put in a captain’s performance, marshalling the back four and with a timely interception of his own prevented Benfica with an almost certain goal.
Fernando Torres was picked over Didier Drogba to start the game and the Spaniard put in the miles along with wide men; Salomon Kalou and Ramires, the trio combined on the counter to score the only goal of the game, as Torres showed great strength to maintain his balance and guide the ball into the path of an on rushing Kalou to tap in.
Juan Mata had two chances to score during the game, the first in which he struck the post from a narrow angle after a route one ball from petr cech turned out to be one of the world’s greatest through balls courtesy of some catastrophic defending. Then again Mata found himself with the chance to double Chelsea’s lead when Sturridge broke away from the Benfica defence and picked out Mata, whose attempted chip sailed just over.
This wasn’t a vintage display by any means, but it was what was necessary. Mikel and Meireles shut down the creative threat posed by Benfica’s highly rated midfielders, their performances may go unnoticed by many but they controlled the game brilliantly. Cole and Ferreira negated any problems that were caused down the flanks, whilst Terry and Luiz prevented Cardozo from having any real chances. It was a display that you would expect a Jose Mourinho side to put in away from home, unless he is managing Real Madrid and they happen to be playing Apoel…
Noteworthy was the reaction of the media to the performance and their praise for battling through away from home. Even if they would like to suggest the Benfica team isn’t as good as they had predicted. Any side which is still left in the competition is there on merit but a great performance by Chelsea saw them come out on top and now are firm favourites to make the Champions League semi-final.