Don’t underestimate the boys from Lisbon.
The next step on our Champions League quest lies in Portugal as we try to conquer Benfica. The Portuguese are somewhat of a surprise package in the competition this season and certainly were not predicted to reach this stage, indeed if you were to pick a team from Portugal to reach this stage it almost certainly would have been the reigning league champions FC Porto. Nevertheless Benfica are here and not without merit. They have overcome a number of key battles and have some very dangerous players that we need to be wary of.
Basel 0-2 Benfica
Although on paper this may not look like a fantastic result Basel have proved themselves to be a true force at home by claiming the scalps of Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Therefore to come here, win and keep a clean sheet can be considered a very good performance and this was a very polished display from Benfica who managed to do what Manchester United could not and keep Basel out home and away.
Manchester United 2-2 Benfica
Arguably the result of the group stage for Benfica as they recovered from losing a 1-0 lead to grab an excellent draw and preserve their unbeaten status in Group C. Aside the expected six points against Otelul the English champions had looked unconvincing in the Champions League and at their fortress it was the visitors who looked more likely to take the three points. Another great performance away from home for Benfica and we have to make sure we do not take them too lightly at the Bridge.
Benfica 2-0 Zenit
Two goals in extra time of each halves proved to be too much for the Russians as Benfica made up a 3-2 from Russia. Zenit are an extremely strong side and although they will have been disappointed to concede two on their home turf they would have expected to put up more of a fight in Lisbon. Benfica produced an excellent defensive display and managed to limit their opponents to a handful of shots as Artur was rarely tested in the Benfica goal.
Javi Garcia is the anchor of Benfica. Whether he is deployed in the holding role or as a centre back he is a rock defensively and has been an ever present for the Portuguese throughout their campaign including qualifying. Picked up from Real Madrid for around €7 million Garcia has imposed himself upon the Benfica team and has quickly become one of their most influential players. He is being chased by both Arsenal and Manchester United and although it is easy to see why, he has on numerous occasions expressed a desire to write himself into the history books at Benfica.
Our answer: Juan Mata
Garcia’s compatriot has been our main creative and driving force this season. The summer signing has quickly established himself in London and most of our good work stems from him. He will be the key to our success over the two legs and Garcia will have his work cut out against him.
Sir Alex Ferguson has praised him and has already expressed an interest in signing him after his performances against United in the group stages and the man brought in to replace Ángel di María is one of the hottest properties in Europe. With pace, technique and an explosive shot Gaitán is undoubtedly a quality winger and a player we have to be wary of. The Argentine has created five goals this season in the Champions League and 14 overall this season. He has the ability to change the game on its head and has to be watched at all times.
Our answer: Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole is simply one of the best left backs of his generation and at this given moment in time few can touch him. He may not be as superb as he has been in the past but this is just due to age catching up with him and he is still world class. One of his greatest rivals in this position, Patrice Evra suffered a torrid time against Gaitán when he faced the tricky winger but Ash has the experience to cope with this and if he can keep the winger quiet it will only bring good things for us.
One of the most technically gifted forwards in European football. Cardozo has an immense shot and is a huge danger from free kicks with his lethal left foot. He has often been criticised for his lack of pace but over the past three seasons he has scored 38 in 47, 23 in 42, and 26 in 35. 4 of the 26 have come this season in the Champions League and he is their top scorer in the competition. Cardozo is the definition of a poacher and he scores for fun, he cannot be given an inch.
Our answer: John Terry
Mr Chelsea marshalled the back line into keeping Hamsik, Lavezzi and Cavani out at Stamford Bridge and he’ll need to be at his brilliant best to face Cardozo. Not the quickest across the turf this tussle may suit Terry because like Cardozo he relies on his brilliant reading of the game and he should be more than a match for anything the Paraguayan can throw at him.
Benfica are not going to lie down and let us walk over them. They will put up a fight and we may end up having to come from behind like the previous tie. They haven’t lost in 10 home games in Europe. You have to go back to December 2010 for their last home defeat and they have all to play for to after a disappointing 0-0 draw at the weekend saw them fail to capitalise on a similar slip up from league leaders Porto. It will be tough but with the right team and a good performance we should progress to the next round