Chelsea vs. Benfica: Picking the Ideal Starting XI to Win the Second Leg
If I was asked to pick the starting team to play Benfica in the first leg, it wouldn't have looked like the side that won in Portugal.
But Roberto Di Matteo's gamble paid off, and Chelsea put in one of their most impressive performances of the year.
All the players put in a good shift, and the Blues thoroughly deserved their away goal advantage.
The team in the first leg was set up in an almost 4-4-2 formation, which worked well, but with Chelsea now in the driving seat, i would expect them to revert to a more familiar 4-3-3 formation.
Injuries and fatigue may have a part to play in what team starts at Stamford Bridge for the return leg Wednesday, but this would be my ideal line-up to get Chelsea in to the semi-finals.
GK: Petr Cech
Cech put in another practically faultless performance in the first leg, and the signs of shakiness he has shown in previous months seem to have gone.
Benfica were taking a lot of long-range shots that were hit with real venom, but none of which caused Cech any danger. He also produced a great reaction save from a point-blank header to keep Chelsea on top.
He can be a game-changer if he is on form, and unless he gets injured, his place in the Chelsea goal is in no danger.
RB: Branislav Ivanovic
Had the Serbian defender not picked up a knock against Manchester City, he would more than likely have started against Benfica.
Jose Bosingwa has been showing his defensive frailties this season, so much so that Paulo Ferreira was preferred over him in Tuesday's game.
Ferreira had a solid game and could not be criticised for his work-rate or efforts, but if Ivanovic is fit, he would be my preferred choice at right-back. This is purely for his defensive work and the threat he can pose from set-piece situations, but it is refreshing to seeing Ferreira playing well again.
CB: David Luiz & John Terry
These two were probably the joint men of the match against Benfica, with performances of true quality.
This is a partnership that is growing stronger each game, and they look like they really enjoy playing alongside each other.
Luiz was immense in the first leg, both in defence and attack, and he looks to have calmed down his dangerous antics that have caused some calamitous moments in the past.
Although Gary Cahill put in one of Chelsea's better individual performances against Spurs last weekend, I would like to see Luiz and Terry put in another similar shift to stop Benfica causing Chelsea any unnecessary problems.
LB: Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole's position is very rarely in jeopardy in big games, and I can't it being any different when Benfica come to Stamford Bridge.
He has been going through a spell of playing far below his best, but in Portugal he had a solid game and looked far more like the player that was widely recognised to be the best left-back in the world.
The amount of forward runs he will make in the home leg will depend on how the game goes and how comfortable Chelsea are playing, but when he does get forward, he can cause any team major problems from the left wing.
CDM: John Obi Mikel
If someone would have told me I was going to put Mikel in any Chelsea starting line-up a few months ago, I would have laughed in their face.
But in recent games, Mikel has really impressed me. His performance in Lisbon was no different; apart from a few stray passes, he was brilliant.
For most of the game, Mikel stopped Pablo Aimar from having any effect on the game, until the Benfica management had had enough and substituted him.
Usually I would want Michael Essien filling this role, but he is yet to return to his best. On recent form, there is no reason for Mikel to be forced out of the team.
CM: Ramires & Frank Lampard
Ramires was fantastic in the first leg, exposing Benfica's lack of pace in defence almost every time he got the ball. Even with a 15-yard gap to make up on his opposition, on many occasions he beat them to the ball and put the Benfica goal under pressure.
Chelsea were playing mostly on the counter-attack during the first leg and it worked well, but for this to work, you need pace going forward—something that Ramires has in abundance.
And although he was effective in his wide role, with his pace through the middle of the pitch, and Daniel Sturridge adding another option on the right of attack, the Benfica defenders will find it hard to deal with them.
It wasn't one of Raul Meireles' worst performances in a Chelsea shirt, but I still do not believe he has enough quality to be a starter for Chelsea in important games.
Lampard should partner Ramires in midfield for the sheer fact he is a leader and can score goals on a regular basis—something that Meireles has yet to prove he can do.
RW & LW: Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata
With the 4-3-3 formation I believe Chelsea should start with at Stamford Bridge next week, these two positions belong to these two players, without much argument from anyone.
Juan Mata can score and create goals without trying sometimes, and he is probably the best bet to give Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba some service up front and give Chelsea some breathing space in the tie.
With Daniel Sturridge you get pace and confidence—attributes that can be used to scare the Benfica defence.
The only complaint that can be made about his play would be his selfishness and habit of shooting too often when a simple pass is the better option.
But with his pace and Benfica's slow defence, he probably won't need to try any outrageous shots.
Striker: Fernando Torres
Fernando Torres' improvement has been clear to see recently. He is looking much more like the player we all know he can be.
Against Benfica he was very impressive; every part of his game looked much sharper, and he appears to have lost his fear of shooting.
Neither he nor Drogba have been in fine goal-scoring form, but for the first time since his arrival at Chelsea, he is looking the hungrier and more energetic of the two players.
Which one of the two will get the nod in the return leg may depend on who starts against Aston Villa Saturday, but I would like to see Torres start against Benfica again and see if he can add to his goal tally.