Amsterdam Arena, Amsterdam
May 15, 2013; 19:45 GMT
History beckons Chelsea FC. They could be the first club in the history of the game to win the champions league and Europa League/UEFA Cup in successive campaigns in the reverse order. It would also mean that they will officially be the holders of Europe’s two major competitions at the same time – that is until the final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund takes place.
But they do have to beat an excellent Benfica side before achieving those feats. And we are talking about one of the most in form sides in Europe currently. Benfica’s defeat last weekend at the hands of current league leaders Porto, was their first defeat in the Liga Sagres this season (Porto are the only undefeated side in the league now). Although that defeat might still prove to be costly, with only game game left in the domestic season, when one looks more subjectively, it was only their fifth defeat in all competitions this season.
In their last round they suffered from their first defeat in the Europa League in the first leg at the hands of Fenerbahce. The Turkish side gave them a big scare when Dirk Kuyt scored a crucial away goal in the first half of the second leg to give Fenerbahce a big lead. But two goals on the either side of the halftime by Oscar Cardozo cemented their place in the final. Despite having a fantastic season, Benfica might still end up without the league title, courtesy of their only defeat in Liga Sagres, so the Europa League’s importance for them has gone up a notch – Jorge Jesus will remind his men of that.
Chelsea have been on a fantastic run of form lately as well. Rafa Benitez’s men have confirmed their top four credential with a win over Aston Villa last weekend. So with their Champions League qualification for next season secured, they can now concentrate on creating history in Holland. The Blues are undefeated in the last eight matches, with their last defeat coming in the FA Cup at the hands of Manchester City.
Rafa Benitez saw his team grab a relatively comfortable win over Swiss champions Basel in the last round of the Europa league. Basel did give them an early scare in the second leg when Mohamed Salah scored in the first half, but a fine display from the home team in the second half meant they ran away with a 5-2 aggregate win. Victor Moses and David Luiz scored for the London club in the both the legs.
90 minutes separates these two teams from going down in the history books. None of the teams go in into this match as favourites and this will be a game of fine margins.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Jorge Jesus doesn’t have any injury worries to contain with before this big game. Maxi Pereira, however, will miss out this match due to suspension after picking up a yellow card in the first of the second leg against Fenerbahce. Which means that Lorenzo Malgarejo will play as the left back, while Almeida, who played as the left-back in the last match, will be shifted to the right-back.
Only one more change is expected to the line-up that start against Porto at the weekend. Ola John, who started that match, will be replaced by Benfica’s top scorer in the Europa League, Oscar Cardozo. This would mean Cardozo will play upfront, while Lima will drop in the hole behind him.
Jorge Jesus used a more attacking 4-3-3 formation against Fenerbahce in the second leg as his team required goals. One can expect him to change back to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation for the final against Chelsea as he will be more circumspect in this match. This change would mean that Matic and Perez will form the pivot in the front of the defence, while Gaitan will play as the left winger, with Salvio on the right. Garay and Luisao will form the center of the defense, although it must be noted that Benfica have failed to keep a clean sheet for the last four matches. In fact the Portuguese team have kept only one clean sheet in this year’s Europa League and that was back in March, against Bordeaux. So defense is a bit of a worry for Jorge Jesus and against a Chelsea side, who are very strong in attack, his back four will be tested once again. Hence the role of Perez and Matic will be crucial in this game as they they will be up against the trio of Oscar, Mata and Moses. Both Perez and Matic will need to cover the space in-between the wingers and the full backs as well, defensively.
But Benfica’s strength is their attack; the trio of Gaitan-Lima-Cardozo is capable of causing problem to any defence. Hence they will hope to score more than they concede.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Moraes (GK); Almeida, Garay, Luisao, Malgarejo; Matic, Perez; Salvio, Lima, Gaitan; Cardozo
Chelsea, unlike Benfica, do have a lot of fitness concerns at the moment. The big news for them before this match was that of Eden Hazard being almost ruled out for the final, but the Belgian has traveled with the team and is expected undergo a late fitness test. Hazard has been a crucial part of Chelsea’s attack this season and the Blues will surely miss him, if he fails to recover from his injury. John Terry is expected miss his second European final in a row, and this time with an injury. Oriol Romeu is the only other long term injury concern.
Demba Ba is ineligible for this match after taking part in this competition with Newcastle United. There are also doubts about the fitness of Mikel and Ryan Bertrand, although the duo can make it to the bench in the final.
This means that Rafa Benitez is expected to make four changes to the side that took to the field against Aston Villa at the weekend. Ba will be replaced by Torres up front, who is incidentally Chelsea’s top scorer in the Europa League. Oscar will replace the injured Hazard, who might start on the right hand side of the trio behind Torres. Frank Lampard, who became the club’s top scorer with a brace this weekend, might find himself on the bench in this match as Rafa might look to start with Ramires and Luiz in the double pivot.
The only change in defence is that Ivanovic will replace the injured John Terry and will partner Cahill in the center of the defense. Chelsea’s defense, like Benfica, has kept only one clean sheet in this competition and that came back in February, in the first leg of their tie against Sparta Prague. Their defense will once again come under pressure from a Benfica side who are dangerous upfront.
The relatively inexperienced Azpilicueta will be up against Benfica biggest attacking threat, Gaitan, and his performance against him can be a crucial factor in deciding the outcome. Hence the right back will require help from Ramires and Luiz in dealing with his threat.
In attack Oscar is likely to start on the right. Mata in the center and Moses out left, but the trio will keep exchanging their positions throughout the match and that could prove to be their biggest strength. Mata would be drifting wide – to the left or right – while Oscar is expected to drift to a more central role. In fact the Brazilian seems to be more comfortable playing through the center. Chelsea could potentially target the inexperienced Lorenzo Malgarejo on the left hand side of the defence, which could also force back Gaitan to a certain extent as he will have to track back to help out his team mate down that side.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Luiz; Oscar, Mata, Moses; Torres
- The last time these two teams met, Chelsea came out on top 3-1 on aggregate in the Champions League last season.
- Benfica striker Oscar Cardozo has scored in six of his team’s last 10 games against English opposition.
- Chelsea have scored at least 2 goals in their last 5 matches in UEFA Europa League.
- Both these teams have kept only one clean sheet in the competition so far.
- If Benfica win the final, they will lift their first major European trophy since 1962.
Player To Watch Out For
Nicolas Gaitan (Benfica)
The Argentine international has been in fine form for the last two seasons. The 25-year-old has been one of the major influence behind Benfica’s success this season. He has already drawn attention from big European clubs, including Manchester United, and according to many rumours this could be his last season at the Portuguese club. So the speculations are true then the midfielder will look to sign off in style. He will be up against a relatively inexperienced right back and if he manages to dominate him, it could influence the outcome of the match in a big way.
Benfica 2 – 2 Chelsea
This match is too tight to call with no clear favourites. In fact Chelsea will be in trouble if they underestimate Jorge Jesus’ side. Both the side will concede goals as neither of them have a water tight defense and this match has the making of being an entertaining affair, unlike most of the big finals – as both the teams’s strength lies in their attack. This match will be decided in extra-time or via penalties. So hold on to your seats.