Benfica V Chelsea: 6 Things We Learned from Champions League QF 1st Leg
Jorge Jesus had just said a couple of weeks ago that being drawn against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals was a dream come true for him and his Benfica side.
The 57-year-old probably fancied his team's chances against a side that hasn't even come close to scaling the dizzying heights of previous seasons, at least domestically.
Clearly the dream didn't last for very long.
The resurgent Blues had a definite game plan, and they executed it to perfection. Roberto Di Matteo must be elated, and with reason. An away goal, a slender lead to take back home—what's not to be happy about?
Of course, I'd just be stating the obvious if I was to say that Benfica are not out of it. They did score twice at Old Trafford in the group stage game against Manchester United, and I wouldn't doubt their ability to repeat that when they travel to West London.
Now I mustn't forget that I'm supposed to discuss the game last night, and not the second leg just yet. So let me come back to that.
With so much talent on show for both troops, it was bound to be a tight affair.
Here are six major things we learned from Chelsea's 1-0 defeat of Benfica.
Paulo Ferreira Is One of the Most Underrated Full-Backs in the Game
Whenever talking about a massive overhaul of the squad in the summer, most Chelsea fans have Ferreira on the list of players they'd like to see make their way out the Stamford Bridge door.
But saying the Portuguese veteran isn't a more solid full-back than the rather careless Jose Bosingwa is like saying that vuvuzelas are easier on the ears than a saxophone would be. It's called living in denial.
Ferreira has been a reliable defender whenever called upon over the last two terms, while also doing well going forward. Tuesday night was no different. He was preferred to Bosingwa at right-back. Other than being a stubborn customer at the back, he played a few nice one-twos with Ramires, and was focused throughout his 80 minutes on the pitch.
The mild-mannered 35-year-old is without doubt one of the most underrated full-backs to have graced the beautiful game in recent years.
The display against Benfica again served to remind everyone what a great servant you've been to the club, Paulo.
Torres' Overall Play Is of Great Benefit to the Team, Even When He Doesn't Score
Cristiano Ronaldo once compared scoring goals to getting ketchup out of a bottle. Once it starts coming, there's no stopping it. Fernando Torres, with all his struggles, must often wonder how valid a statement that is.
Anyhow, not intending to waste any more time discussing the relationship between goal scoring and tomato sauce, I'd like to give Torres due credit for the part he played in a crucial away win.
Busy racking up the assists instead this season, Torres was the provider for the industrious Salomon Kalou, whose second-half persistence deserved a goal. The Ivorian slid in and finished with ease.
Torres chased down lost causes and played a good pressing game. His link-up with teammates was brilliant. In all aspects except one, he looks like he's back to his best.
He was a bit of an unsung hero on the night.
RDM's Bravery and Tactical Nous Are Worthy of Praise
Di Matteo stressed after the game the importance of shuffling his pack toward the business end of the season.
He had, in fact, fielded a somewhat changed side. And it sure paid dividends.
Ferreira, Luiz, Kalou and Torres were all brought in to the starting lineup, and they produced the goods. Leaving out the biggies—Lampard, Essien and Drogba—was a gamble that paid off,. A similar move by AVB at the same stage in the last round had been pretty much been the final straw for him.
Hats off to Roberto for his brave choices.
Of course it wasn't just those bold decisions that RDM should be applauded for. The way he set his team up was perfect for the task at hand. His instructions must have been really sound, considering the team looked like a strong, cohesive and disciplined unit.
Benfica Had Some Great Chances, and Are Very Much Alive in the Tie
Benfica were the home team, and they were expected to take the attacking initiative. In that sense, they didn't cease to try and create openings.
The Eagles had some decent chances, the most notable of which fell to Jardel Nivaldo Vieira. David Luiz also managed a great block from an Oscar Cardozo shot.
The stats read well for the Portuguese outfit. They took 25 shots on goal, of which eight were on target. That is significantly better than Chelsea's three on target. Also, Jorge Jesus' side had 56 percent of possession.
Given the fact that they are only a goal down in the tie, Benfica have every reason to believe they can progress.
Of course, they will need a much better showing from their rather slow back-line, which looked in trouble whenever Chelsea came forward on the counter attack. Benfica will also need Cardozo to take his chances.
Chelsea, meanwhile, cannot afford to get complacent. Their work isn't over just yet.
Gaitán, Witsel and César Will Have to Play Better to Get Noticed by Bigger Clubs
It would be fair to say that, in general, the main attackers for Benfica had a lacklustre game. The young guns on show would surely have wanted to put in more convincing performances to catch the eyes of the watching Europe's giants.
Axel Witsel and the two South Americans, Nicolás Gaitán and Bruno César, have been linked to some big clubs across the continent and will have drawn a lot of attention after the Eagles made it to the last eight.
Gaitán came to life in the second half, but would have liked to influence proceedings more. Meanwhile, Witsel and César had hit-and-miss showings.
All three will have to come to the fore and deliver when Benfica visit Stamford Bridge if they are to really engineer big moves in the near future. No stage in club football is bigger than this, and these young prospects must make the best of this opportunity.
Solid Defending Can Make All the Difference on Your Champions League Travels
Chelsea won this one simply because of their resolute defending. David Luiz and John Terry had big games in the heart of the defense. Ashley Cole was almost impeccable at the back. Ferreira, as I said, was up for this one.
Jon Obi Mikel and Raul Meireles may not have had outstanding games in the center of the pitch, but their grit and mettle in midfield was decisive. They ruined Benfica's flow by either fouling their players or winning free kicks themselves. The point is that they were deployed to break the opponent's game in the middle, and they did just that.
Ramires, who cannot possibly escape a mention after last night, was there for his defensive duties as well. More than once, he dribbled out of trouble with such menace that before you knew it, Chelsea were on the attack.
All in all, everyone did their job protecting the lead, including the off-colour Juan Mata and the positionally superb Petr Cech.
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