Benfica vs. Chelsea: The Key Battles to Decide the Europa League Final

Joe Krishnan@joekrishnanContributor IMay 9, 2013

Benfica vs. Chelsea: The Key Battles to Decide the Europa League Final

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    After last season's magnificent Champions League triumph, Chelsea would have been hoping to emulate their success by retaining the coveted prize.

    But after falling at the group stage, they will be more than happy with their progress in the less-celebrated Europa League after entering at the Last-16 stage.

    However, if they are to get their hands on another European trophy, Chelsea will need to overcome a team they only met last season, Portuguese Liga leaders Benfica.

    The Blues overcame the Eagles 3-1, on aggregate, in the Champions League semifinal with a vital away goal from Salomon Kalou proving decisive as they made their way to the final.

    But their coach, Jorge Jesus, will know that his side has played a significantly fewer number of games than their jaded opponents and will no doubt be hoping to use that to the capital club's advantage.

    It promises to be a tightly-contested clash at the Amsterdam Arena, and here, we look at which battles in the game could be key to deciding the tie.

Ezequiel Garay vs. Fernando Torres

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    A player strongly linked with a summer move to Manchester United, Ezequiel Garay knows how to deal with the big name players.

    After all, Garay moved to Real Madrid from Racing Santander in 2008, a move which saw the Argentine placed under pressure to perform after he had spent the remainder of the season on loan at Racing.

    Just 25 appearances in three years at the club saw Garay move to Benfica in the summer of 2011, and since then, he has really grown as a player. 

    A towering centre-half standing at 6'4", he has been capped 11 times by Argentina, and his impressive performances for the Portuguese side has seen him linked to Manchester United and his former club.

    But he will have his work cut out for him against a revitalized Fernando Torres, who has struck eight goals in 15 European appearances this season and has been especially impressive with his form in the Europa League.

    The 29-year-old's aerial ability makes him a threat, and, as the Spaniard is the only attacking option for the Blues, it will be up to him to come up with the goods.

    Torres has 20 goals in all competitions in the current campaign, by far his best return in a Chelsea shirt.

    And after starting the Champions League final on the bench, Torres will be determined to write his name in the history books and make himself a hero. 

Nemanja Matic vs. Juan Mata

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    As a former Blues midfielder, Nemanja Matic will know the task Benfica face when they come up against his previous club, Chelsea, and national teammate Branislav Ivanovic. But there is one little man that the Serb knows he will need to keep quiet.

    Matic, who signed with Benfica in January 2011 as part of the deal which saw David Luiz move to West London, was never given a real opportunity to break into the first team, like many other youngsters at Stamford Bridge.

    And so the former Kosice midfielder has grabbed the opportunity for regular first-team football at the Estadio da Luz, making 58 appearances in the process under Jorge Jesus.

    Of course, he has come up against midfield maestros such as Joao Moutinho, but facing Juan Mata like he did last season will be a whole new ball game.

    The £26 million playmaker, who joined from Valencia in 2011, came up against Matic in last season's clash. And despite keeping his involvement to a minimum in that fixture, Mata has made major strides in his career this season at Chelsea.

    Shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year award, the Spanish international has scored 10 goals and assisted on 18 others for his teammates in his 33 appearances this season, highlighting his influence as a goalscorer and also the team's main supply of creativity.

    It will a key battle in the game for Matic to keep the 25-year-old quiet, and, if he does, he may just play a major part in helping Benfica achieve their first European trophy in 51 years.  

Nico Gaitan vs. Ramires

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    Like many Argentinian youngsters, gaining the coveted move to Europe is lucrative but also extremely demanding. And while many fail to make the grade, it's fair to say that Nicolas Gaitan has made a lasting impression at Benfica.

    After starting his career at Boca Juniors, Jorge Jesus decided to bring the tricky winger to Portugal in the summer of 2010 when Real Madrid snapped up Gaitan's compatriot, Angel di Maria, for £25 million.

    The pacy winger can also operate as a playmaker and is an integral part of the Benfica side. Possessing a powerful left foot, he can play on either wing and will occasionally drift inside into pockets of space.

    Chelsea will be wary of the threat Gaitan poses after having faced him last season, and with the 25-year-old scoring four times and notching 11 assists in the current campaign, the Blues will need to ensure he has a quiet game at the Amsterdam Arena.

    But if we know anything about Chelsea's tireless midfielder Ramires, it's that in matches of such importance, he delivers a solid performance.

    The former Cruzeiro man was instrumental in last season's Champions League and FA Cup double, scoring in the semifinal and final respectively. And while he will be in a more disciplined role for the Europa League final, he will still provide an attacking threat.

    One of Carlo Ancelotti's most celebrated signings in the summer of 2010, the £18 million man has vastly improved this season, improving his technical ability and using his unrivaled stamina to become one of Europe's best box-to-box midfielders.

    After missing last year's Champions League final through suspension, Ramires will be hungry to add yet another medal to his bulging collection. 

Oscar Cardozo vs. David Luiz

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    This will arguably be one of the toughest nights in David Luiz's career for two reasons. The first is that he will be coming up against his former club in the Europa League final. The other? His task is to prevent Oscar Cardozo from scoring.

    The Paraguayan international has been something of a revelation since signing from Argentinian outfit Newells Old Boys, scoring a mammoth total of 159 goals in just 255 appearances for the Portuguese club with over 100 coming in the league.

    The 29-year-old has again been in magnificent form this season, notching up an impressive total of 31 strikes in 42 games with eight coming in Europe.

    He scored twice as Benfica overcame Turkish giants Fenerbahce, 4-2, on aggregate in the semifinals, and he will be the main threat posed by Jorge Jesus' side.

    But if anyone knows how to play against Cardozo, it's his former teammate David Luiz. The Brazilian will be desperate for some silverware after his heartache at the club's failure to win the Club World Cup earlier this season. Where better to do it than against his former club?

    The 26-year-old, who left Benfica in 2011 in a £21 million deal, has vastly improved this season under Rafa Benitez and has been commended for his excellent passing and free-kick abilities. 

    His versatility means he can either play a centre-half or defensive midfielder, and Luiz has presented himself as a true leader and a possible future captain for Chelsea.

    The presence of the Brazilian international on the pitch could be key in this tie, and keeping Cardozo quiet will be his first task. No doubt, he will be determined to grab his second consecutive European trophy and silence critics from his former club.