Chelsea have one foot in the semi-finals of the Champions League after a Salomon Kalou goal snatched a 1-0 win away to Benfica last night.
The Blues now take a well-deserved lead back to Stamford Bridge for the quarter-final second leg next Wednesday.
The goal came after 75 minutes when the fantastic Ramires released Fernando Torres down the right wing. The Spaniard shrugged off defender Jardel before placing a perfectly-weighted ball into the six-yard-box where Kalou left-foot poked the ball underneath the goalkeeper.
The Ivorian was one of a number of controversial inclusions in Roberto di Matteo’s squad but the Italian’s decisions clearly paid off. Kalou was brought into the squad alongside Torres, Paulo Ferreira and John Obi Mikel at the expense of Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge, Jose Bosingwa and Frank Lampard. The latter three were introduced late on and put in solid displays, but a lot of the hard work had already been done.
The front pages today go to Kalou, but this is the first occasion in more than two years that Benfica have not scored at home and the Chelsea defence deserve a great deal of praise. Although Petr Cech had to make some good saves – a 67th minute point-blank save from a Nicolas Gaitan header the pick of the bunch – the defence prevented most of the damage.
David Luiz, playing at his former club, was excellent throughout, while Ashley Cole, although he came close to scoring a 93rd minute own goal, hardly put a foot wrong. Meanwhile, Ferreira, starting his first game of 2012, put in an assured and John Terry made a crucial intervention four minutes before the goal to stop Oscar Cardozo getting through on goal.
Creators of the goal Ramires and Torres were fabulous throughout and the Blues were unlucky not to add a second goal. Losing the home leg is never good, but, despite having their chances, Benfica will be glad not to have conceded more than one goal.
It was Chelsea’s first away victory in the Champions League this season and the team will be delighted with both the result and the performance. Of course no Champions League quarter-final is easy, a good display is still needed next Wednesday, but this victory certainly takes a little pressure off and makes the Blues firm favourites to advance to the next round.