Should Chelsea beat Benfica on Wednesday and advance to the semifinals of the Champions League, the Blues will be asked to play 8 games in the month of April alone. That’s one large fixture pile up, and one that will test the depth of the squad, especially since many are over the age of 30.
However, I think many Chelsea supporters will gladly take that given the state of the club just a month ago. The thought of contesting the FA Cup and the Champions League was a far-fetched idea. Give credit to Roberto Di Matteo for unifying the squad.
Now, I think we learned a lot from the first leg against Benfica. I think the main thing is that Benfica team didn’t play anywhere close to their potential.
That one away goal is absolutely vital because it means that Benfica have to score a minimum of 2 goals to avoid having to advance via spot kicks. While I think Benfica can definitely score a goal, I don’t believe they can stop us from scoring one. It’s time to get on with the breakdown.
The first thing we learned is that Jorge Jesus got his tactics terribly wrong.
Benfica had success with crosses in the box when they played United in the Group Stages. However in both matches against United, United were forced to play changed CB pairings due to injury, and it showed with the organization in dealing with set pieces and crosses.
That style of play is perfect for us to defend with John Terry and David Luiz who are great at heading out of the box.
The other factor is that I don’t think Jorge Jesus’ team played anywhere close to the pressing game and short passing game that they excel at.
I expect them to change, but I’m not quite sure how. Jesus suggested that his team could sit back at Stamford Bridge and soak up pressure. It’ll be interesting to see if he does that.
I was amazed at how easily Benfica’s back line was beaten for pace repeatedly.
Luisao and Jardel had an absolutely torrid time dealing with Juan Mata, Fernando Torres, and Salomon Kalou. I was surprised at how slow they looked in responding to transitions on counter. Kalou, in particular, could have had at least two goals had his put his chances away.
The interesting thing is that Jardel is injured for Wednesday, and he was the one that Torres left in the dust for the lone goal in the first leg. It will be a challenge for Benfica to decide who they’ll put at CB and how they will deal with their pace issues.
Javi Martinez and Axel Witsel are important in the central midfield. Martinez might not be there, though.
With the injury to Jardel, Martinez might be asked to deputise in defence. If that happens, we must take advantage.
Nemanja Matic is a decent player, but I don’t think he did a very good job of anchoring the center. I thought Witsel and Martinez were part of the reason we didn’t score more goals. They made it very difficult for us to counter through the middle.
If Martinez has to play a CB, it weakens their midfield, akin to the way that we were weakened in midfield back in 2007 when Michael Essien had to play in the centre.
Pablo Aimar and Nicolas Gaitan are the key to anything Benfica does.
I thought that the biggest thing that destabilized the Benfica team was the substitution of Aimar. After Aimar left, I didn’t think that Benfica looked half as dangerous in attack, in fact, I thought they looked a little lost without Aimar’s creativity and distribution.
Likewise, I thought Gaitan was anonymous in the first leg. He was a player that is highly sought after and with good reason. He roasted the left backs in the Group Stages, but last week he was kept in check by both Paulo Ferreira and Ashley Cole. He must have a good game if Benfica are to have any hope of progressing because Oscar Cardozo needs his service from wide.
From a Chelsea perspective, we must not get complacent and we must find a team amongst the injured.
Six players missed training yesterday, but Di Matteo expects everyone to train today ahead of the Benfica match. This will be incredibly important if we do have to face the 8 matches in a month coming up.
The squad also must remain focused because this Benfica team is certainly capable of overturning a 1-0 deficit if we lose focus. I don’t think they are near the quality of Napoli in the final third, but they’re still dangerous. We will also know our opposition for the next round with Barcelona and Milan playing today.
I hesitate to pick a scoreline because I’ve discovered that I’m really bad at it. I will say that I expect the Blues to progress. They have a bit more quality and with a revitalized Torres, they have to be the favorites to go through.