Why Oscar Cardozo Is the Benfica Player Chelsea Should Fear Most
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Around this time last year, Chelsea were preparing for their second attempt at taking home the Champions League trophy from the Allianz Arena in Munich, acknowledging that victory was absolutely vital to securing the club's short-term future.
With Chelsea finishing in a lowly sixth position in the Premier League, the pressure was on to deliver Europe's most coveted prize.
Emotions ran high as Chelsea fought back after Thomas Muller opened the scoring, with Didier Drogba heading home with stoppage time swiftly arriving. And netting the winning penalty was a fitting way for Drogba to end his eight-year association with the Blues.
If you were to ask the Chelsea squad at the time if they wanted to defend their title next season, no doubt the response would be a jovial chorus of "Why not?"
Unfortunately, this season has been something of a disaster. Despite entering eight competitions from the start of the campaign, the West London club have just one last shot at winning a piece of silverware: the Europa League Final.
It may not have been the glory that any of the Chelsea squad would have been hoping for, but it's a result of their exits in the FA Cup and League Cup and losing out on the Premier League title.
And it will be no easy feat either. They come up against a Benfica side who certainly proved they are strong opponents, challenging Chelsea all the way in the Champions League semifinal before surrendering to a 3-1 aggregate defeat.
One man in particular will be hoping to improve his performance after seeing his influence limited by the Chelsea defence previously, and will use last year's disappointment as a motive for revenge. Perhaps now is a better time than ever for the towering forward to end Benfica's hoodoo in European competition.
Yes, Oscar Cardozo has an incredible goalscoring record since arriving at the Estadio da Luz in 2007. But the Paraguayan international will no doubt be happy to trade in all six of his Europa League goals this season for the winning strike in the Final.
The striker, who turns 30 next week, has perhaps enjoyed one of his best seasons to date in terms of form. His return of 31 goals in 42 appearances has been crucial to Jorge Jesus' side, as Benfica challenged for their first Liga Sagres title since 2010, before a 2-1 defeat to rivals Porto ended any chance of the title coming to Lisbon.
One of the best target men around, at 6'4" tall, Cardozo is always a handful for the opposition defence. His mobility may be limited due to a lack of pace and his large frame, but in and around the box, he is a lethal weapon.
Benfica will be looking to their Argentinian wingers—Eduardo Salvio and Nicolas Gaitan—to deliver balls into the penalty area, with either Cardozo or his strike partner Lima getting on the end of them.
As well as limiting Cardozo's aerial threat, Chelsea will need to limit Gaitan's creative influence. With the 25-year-old given clear instructions to thread through balls into the front two, limiting his impact on the game will be critical if Chelsea are to emerge successful.
The wide range of attributes that the talented South American holds means he is not just limited to being a fox-in-the-box-style forward; the Paraguay international is an excellent set-piece taker, and what's worse, he is equally adept with both feet.
For that reason, Chelsea will need to be wary about giving any free-kicks away within 30 yards of goal. Why, you may ask? Here's why...
Chelsea's interim manager Rafa Benitez knows that Cardozo will be the key man, and the Spaniard has to ensure the Blues are organized in defence if they are to deal with the threat he poses.
Although he may possess something of a tactical nous, the former Liverpool coach could take a look at how his predecessor Roberto Di Matteo managed to keep the ex-Newells Old Boys striker under wraps. The likely choice for marking the Nacional Asuncion trainee would be his former teammate David Luiz, who swapped Lisbon for London in 2011 for £21 million.
Luiz knowing just how much it takes to stop the colossal forward will be an advantage for Chelsea, and with the help of a defensive ally, Luiz can ensure Cardozo endures another frustrating night in Amsterdam.
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