Chelsea, who overturned a 3-1 deficit against Napoli to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League a fortnight ago, will travel to Portugal this Tuesday evening as they prepare to face Jorge Jesus’ Benfica who are, as well as Cypriot champions Apoel, seen as the surprise package in the last eight of the competition.
If Chelsea think their two-legged tie with Benfica is going to be a breeze, they are sadly mistaken.
Benfica, who are a club that are the most successful Portuguese football club in terms of national titles, with 66, are sure to be no pushovers against their London opposition and will be giving everything in an attempt to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.
And this pursuit for the trophy, something they haven’t won since the early 1960’s, will start this Tuesday evening live infront of the Sky cameras against a Chelsea outfit that have been, one would say, fairly poor in this season’s tournament, by their rich standards anyway.
I expect the Blues will defend solidly at Benfica’s place and try and try and break on the counter-attack, but then really go for it at Stamford Bridge. However, Benfica, who finished 2nd in the Primeria Liga last term, certainly possess players that are more than capable of dictating a game and exploiting opposition weaknessess such as Belgian starlet Axel Witsel, powerful striker Oscar Cardozo and young Argentine wonderkid Nicolas Gaitan.
And, in-fact, the three players listed above may just prove the difference attacking-wise if Benfica are to pull off a shock victory at the Estadio da Luz as they all have the ability to produce in a fixture like this with such a high magnitude involved. Couple this with the fact they have a very highly-rated coach in Jorge Jesus, who has been linked with the empty Chelsea hot seat come the end of the season, and you will start to realise just what a force Benfica are to be reckoned with.
We have already seen, albeit in a different competition, that Portuguese teams pose a real threat. Sporting Lisbon, who finished in 3rd spot last campaign, knocked out English mega-rich Manchester City out of the Europa League earlier in the season. And, despite crumbling at The Etihad Stadium after putting a credible performance at home, Porto gave City a real good run for their money.
As far as I’m concerned, if Benfica can use their widemen Nicolas Gaitan, Axel Witsel and Yannick Djalo to support the usual lone striker Oscar Cardozo up top, I see no real reason why Jesus’ men cannot knock a Chelsea team, that have already shown they have found this season’s Champions League difficult with various group stage displays and of course that night in Naples, out of a competition that they could quite realistically reach the semi-finals of.
Gaitan is a player that is tricky, skillful and technically gifted who, in my opinion, is good enough to play for a top, top European side. Then Witsel, signed from Standard Liege in the summer, has already featured in 34 games in all competitions for Benfica this season, which shows just how much faith they as a club have in the 23-year-old. And Cardozo, who has netted 26 times in 35 appearances this term, should be able to give Chelsea’s backline, especially David Luiz who left Benfica for the Blues a year ago, a real problem or two with his energy, hard work and goal threat.
Beware Chelsea. Benfica are out to get you.