It may not be as illustrious as the Champions League final, but Wednesday's Europa League final between Chelsea and Benfica comes loaded with plenty of intriguing storylines.
For Chelsea, the Europa League final is the opportunity to win a second major European trophy in two years, as the team won the Champions League last season and could become the first club to hold both trophies at the same time.
For Benfica, it is the opportunity to hoist their first European trophy since 1962, despite reaching six finals since that time. It may also be the opportunity to lessen the blow from a major disappointment this weekend. Portuguese league leaders Porto beat them 2-1, leaving Benfica second in the table with just a game to go.
This one is going to be fun, folks—let's break it down.
When: Wednesday, May 15 at 2:45 p.m. ET
Where: Amsterdam ArenA, Netherlands
Watch: Fox Soccer
Streaming: Fox Soccer 2Go
What They're Saying
Chelsea fans never really wanted Rafa Benitez to take over as interim manager, and they've never really warmed up to him throughout the season. But with a Champions League spot essentially clinched and a Europa League title hanging in the balance, he's certainly done his job.
And as Phil McNulty of BBC writes, Benitez would like nothing more than to remind Chelsea fans of that fact with one last parting gift on Wednesday:
If many Chelsea fans refuse to remember Benitez's short interim reign at Stamford Bridge once he has gone, the Spaniard is at least determined to leave a trophy behind with his name alongside it.
Chelsea's supporters may not wish to recall Benitez with any fondness, but you suspect this most divisive of managers may just take added pleasure in giving them no option by delivering success.
Benitez has made much of his reputation on the one-off European set-piece, proving a successful strategist while taking Liverpool to two Champions League finals - and it was clear this stage suits him as he faced the media in Amsterdam.
Benfica Player to Watch: Oscar Cardozo
Cardozo has been magnificent for Benfica this season, with 23 goals in 37 appearances across all competitions for the Portuguese side. He's been particularly clinical in this tournament, scoring six goals in eight Europa League appearances.
Cardozo isn't a creator, but given any amount of space in or around the box, he can be truly lethal. He's a threat in the air, deadly on set pieces and a dangerous poacher, and he can find the back of the net with either foot.
Benfica is a very strong defensive team and should be able to keep Chelsea's dangerous attack in check, but they may not be able to maintain a clean sheet. That makes Cardozo's performance all the more vital for the team, and it makes him a player the Blues must be aware of at all times.
Chelsea Player to Watch: Frank Lampard
With Eden Hazard out due to injury and Demba Ba ineligible to play (he's cup-tied since he played in the tournament with Newcastle earlier in the year), Frank Lampard will have to be a facilitator and possibly even a goalscorer for Chelsea.
With John Obi Mikel questionable to play, he may need to drop deeper into the midfield and be a presence defensively. And with John Terry questionable as well, the veteran will have to be Chelsea's leader on the day.
In other words, Lampard will have to fill a few roles with several of Chelsea's key players possibly out for this match. But Chelsea's leading scorer and likely captain for the game is certainly up to the task.
I really, really like this Benfica side. They play as a team, have more talent than folks unfamiliar with the Portuguese Liga realize and won't be intimidated by Chelsea. Not in the least.
But the Blues have a roster full of players who won a Champions League title last year and a manager in Benitez who once led Liverpool to two Champions League finals. What's more, the club features true difference makers in Lampard, David Luiz and Juan Mata—they can take over any game or change the momentum with a flash of brilliance.
Benfica won't make things easy, but Chelsea will win, 2-1.
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