Let's get one thing clear—I really like Benfica.
They play as a team, are very tough to crack defensively, dangerous on the attack with players like Oscar Cardozo and Lima leading the line and have a player in Nemanja Matic who does a little bit of everything for the club and is one of the Portguese Liga's top players.
But despite that fact, I still think it will be Chelsea that hoists the Europa League trophy this season, the second year in a row the team will hoist a European trophy after winning the Champions League in 2012.
And that would make history in the process. From FIFA.com:
But if they overcome Benfica, they will become the first club to hold both European titles at the same time.
They are also bidding to become only the fourth team to have won the Champions League, the Europa League and the now-defunct Cup Winners' Cup - which they won in 1971 and 1998—after Bayern, Juventus and Ajax.
So why do I like Chelsea in this matchup?
While Eden Hazard (injury) and Demba Ba (cup-tied) won't be available—and John Terry and John Obi Mikel may not be able to play either—this is still a deep, talented roster.
Juan Mata will be the best player on the pitch if he is in top form. David Luiz is a force of nature that either solidifies Chelsea's back line or offers the midfield a defensive anchor, while also also posing a threat of scoring from distance. Oscar is a young, creative dynamo on the attack.
Victor Moses can be an absolute handful to deal with on the wing given his size and speed. Ramires can be downright brilliant at times. And players like Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole have plenty of experience in big games such as this.
Oh, and let's not forget manager Rafa Benitez's experience in big games, as he led Liverpool to two Champions League finals.
Benfica obviously is no pushover. This is a club that has given up just 19 goals in league play, is balanced across the pitch and has talented players that easily could be playing in bigger leagues.
But Benfica's stinginess hasn't quite extended to the Europa League, where it has allowed seven goals in eight games, though the team has only lost once in the competition. Against stiffer competition Benfica has conceded on a far more regular basis than the team did in the league.
And Chelsea can be downright dynamic on the attack. At any moment, Lampard, Luiz or Mata can strike, and even Fernando Torres has the occasional moment of brilliance in his game.
In the end, I think Benfica will give Chelsea everything it can handle and a little more, but the Blues will fall back on their superior talent and experience and steal a 2-1 win. Chelsea may not have gotten the league results they were hoping for in the past two years, but European play will once again be kind to the Blues.
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