After a more tense 90 minutes than most people would have wished for, Chelsea managed to progress to the semi-final stage of the Champions League and book a tie with the holders Barcelona.
The rivalry with Barcelona will be renewed after a 3-1 victory on aggregate against Benfica and Roberto Di Matteo is looking forward to his biggest challenge yet as a manager. The teams will be familiar with each other having met numerous times in the Champions League over the past 12 years. The stats are split 50/50 with both teams having recorded 3 wins and the remaining games ending in draws.
The night started with Chelsea 1-0 up after the first leg in Lisbon and it only took 20 minutes for the home side to double their advantage. Ashley cole was bundled over in the penalty area needlessly and Frank Lampard did not shy away as he powered the ensuing penalty into the bottom corner. Benfica’s task looked even more steep after 40 minutes when Maxi Pereira received his 2nd yellow card after a careless lunge on John Obi Mikel. His first yellow card coming in even more needless fashion as he was booked for dissent following the penalty. Arguably signs of passion on the night but also stupidity from the Benfica captain, who done everything but lead by example.
The red card however seemed to motivate the Portuguese side, who for the majority of the second half, looked like the team with the extra man advantage. Pablo Aimar’s influence seemed to increase and he found himself on the ball more than ever. Yet it was still Chelsea who had the better chances. Ramires somehow managed to miss the net after being handed the ball on a plate only 2 yards away from goal. Petr Cech was on hand as usual to keep out Benfica’s attempts and produced a fantastic save to keep out Oscar Cardozo’s curling effort.
With 5 minutes to go, Benfica found the back of the net thanks to a header from Javi Garcia. It meant that the remaining minutes would be full of tension and nerves for players and supporters alike. It was fitting that the man who put the nail in the coffin for Benfica’s Champions League hope was none other than Ex- Porto star Raul Meireles. The midfielder collected the ball on the edge of his own half after a clearance and knocked the ball over Aimar before carrying it to the edge of the Benfica box and unleashing a pile-driver into the top corner.
Chelsea’s resurgence under Di Matteo continued but the side now find themselves in a fixture pile up, having to play 6 games in the next 17 days. Thankfully the first 5 games are all in the capital before the return leg against Barcelona on April 24th.
Notes from the game:
Ramires looked like a spent force on the wing, evidently tiring throughout the match and possibly having one of his worst performances this season. The Brazilian arguably picking up the unwanted prize of Chelsea’s worst miss for quite some time. (Yes, even worse than Torres)
John Obi Mikel was again enjoying a great performance. His return to the side has coincided with Chelsea’s good form, his protection of the back four has been crucial and has allowed the like of Lampard and Mata to venture more forward. Growing into the role he had been groomed for ever since Claude Makelele left the club.
Juan Mata was again involved in almost every positive move for Chelsea. It may get tiring to read every game that the Spaniard was vital with his creativity and brilliant passing but it is always true.
Injury alert! John Terry was taken off after having difficulties breathing, following two cracked ribs that he suffered in the reverse fixture, the Chelsea captain will be a doubt for the following games against Wigan and Fulham.
Jose Mourinho found himself in the spotlight again and once again received the praise of Chelsea fans after seemingly insinuating that the team have no hope against Barcelona because of the favourable decisions the Spanish side receive.
Finally, it will be a huge task to beat the holders but it is possible. Many of the current squad will have played against them in the ‘Scandal at Stamford Bridge’ and many will still feel aggrieved. Chelsea’s record against Barcelona is as good as anyones and they should take confidence and belief from that.