Chelsea vs. Benfica: 6 Bold Predictions for Their Champions League Quarterfinal
Chelsea, a team with more drama than the Ewings, have pulled together enough under caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo to put together a downright decent run of form. Saturday, the Blues took care of a young Villa side to stay within shouting distance of fourth place and a Champions League spot for 2012-13.
But before they can worry about securing their spot in next season's edition, Di Matteo and Chelsea have business to take care of in the current version of the Champions League. After going to Portugal and securing a victory, along with an away goal, Chelsea will look to seal their progression to the semifinals on Wednesday's return leg.
Benfica wasn't a large underdog coming into the tie, but now must overturn that deficit at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has conceded just one goal at home in their Champions League home dates this season, making the task nearly Herculean.
Benfica's danger man up top, Paraguyan Oscar Cardozo, will need to be on target this time around if the Portuguese side is to have any chance of advancing.
With a possible matchup against Barcelona looking in the semis, here are six bold predictions for the second leg of the quarterfinal between Chelsea and Benfica.
Benfica Will Score
Only bold because of Chelsea's stellar home defensive record in the Champions League, the prediction that Benfica will score is based on simple chance.
In the first leg at the Estadio da Luz, Benfica outshot Chelsea more than two to one and failed to score for the first time in their Champions League campaign.
Roberto Di Matteo's surprising—and ultimately good—decision to start Paulo Ferreira and the stellar play of David Luiz kept the Portuguese down in the first leg. But the home side came close, so while the environment will be much more difficult in London, Oscar Cardozo and company should score.
Frank Lampard Will Start and Star
Roberto Di Matteo made the surprising decision to leave midfielder Frank Lampard out of the starting lineup in the first leg against Benfica at the Estadio da Luz. Lampard eventually made a substitute appearance, replacing Raul Meireles in the 68th minute.
At home, with a strong performance on the weekend behind them, Di Matteo is likely to give Lampard the start. Don't count out Frank to put in a stellar performance and propel Chelsea into the semifinals with a bound in their step.
Roberto Di Matteo Will Get Praise for Chelsea Triumph
Fair or not, it is Robero Di Matteo's CV that will get the bump should Chelsea finish the job against Benfica. Left to pick up the pieces after Andre Villas-Boas' rebuilding project was summarily scrapped, Di Matteo has done a fine job marshaling an aging core.
What happens next for Chelsea, with either AC Milan or Barcelona looming in the semifinals, is anyone's guess. And while Benfica isn't on the level of some of the remaining Champions League competitors, Chelsea's berth in the next round wasn't guaranteed.
Fernando Torres Will Score a Brace
The long, long, LONG return to form of Fernando Torres appears to finally be coming to an end. Torres broke his Premier League scoreless streak with a late tally against Villa in the league on Saturday, and looks ready to assume the role of Chelsea's No. 1 striker.
To be fair to Torres, the Spaniards' play was coming good before he started scoring again, though it was more in the area of facilitation than sealing the deal himself.
Heading into Wednesday, Torres's confidence is higher than it's been in the calendar year; the Blues are ready to put Benfica to the sword, and it's a decent bet that Torres will be the man burying the blade.
Peter Cech Will Be Called on to Make Several Crucial Saves
Maybe this prediction isn't exactly bold, but as I've already called for Benfica to score—something foreign teams just don't do at Stamford Bridge—it stands to reason that Chelsea will need a good game from their veteran keeper to keep their advantage.
Ultimately, it's hard to see Benfica keeping Chelsea off the board, which will decide the tie, but the Portuguese side's attacking talent is more than enough to keep Cech busy. In addition to Cardozo, Benfica's Nicolas Gaitan and Pablo Aimar present the biggest threat to John Terry and the Chelsea back line.
Should he play, will David Luiz be in line for another stellar performance for the Blues? That, perhaps more than any other factor, will determine how much work Cech is forced to do.
Benfica Will Control Long Stretches of the Game
It will be difficult for the visitors to win by scoring and keeping a clean sheet, or by more than a goal if Chelsea score. But Benfica can and will dictate the tone of the match for long stretches, with Chelsea content to sit back and pick their moments.
Torres' speed on the counter and Chelsea's advantage in the air on set pieces will create opportunities for Chelsea to score. In other words, Di Matteo's men won't need the ball to be comfortable, and while they won't set out to concede possession, the instinct will be to defend their lead and attack when it makes sense.
Chelsea's pressing of Benfica will give the fluid Portuguese side a chance to get break midfield pressure and attack with speed, something the Blues won't want.