Much like their rivals FC Porto - to whom they just conceded the Portuguese title via a stoppage time goal - Benfica have been a steady pipeline of talent into Europe over the last few years. Two of our own, David Luiz and Ramires took star turns in Lisbon, alongside the likes of Javi Garcia, Fabio Coentrao, Angel Di Maria, and Axel Witsel.
It's not hard to envision several of the current squad moving on for hefty transfer fees as well. Who might they be? Any answer to that question must start with the trio of Matic, Gaitan, and Garay, but let's meet all of Benfica's eighteen most used players this season:
Artur (Brazil, GK, 32) - After a forgettable first decade as a professional, failing to establish himself at various Brazilian and Italian sides, Artur Moraes signed two years ago on a free transfer from SC Braga. Suddenly, everything clicked and he's been the undisputed first choice ever since. Rei ("King") Artur, as he's apparently known, is going to have to marshal his knights of the round table to combat Chelsea's attacking band. He has a website that looks like the unholy offspring of Geocities and the old MySpace and he's not above linking Bleacher Report articles naming him the seventh best goalkeeper in Europe this season on his Twitter account.
Ezequiel Garay (Argentina, DC, 26) - We managed to avoid him last season due to injury but I remember when Garay was the next big thing in South American defenders. Alas, his move to Real Madrid did not quite pan out in real life as well as it used to in FM 2007. Moved to Benfica - with Fabio Coentrao going to other way - when Jose Mourinho deemed him surplus to requirements. In an already developing theme here, things suddenly clicked for Garay and he's been a fixture in the back line ever since. He's even been called back into the Argentina national team, receiving nine of his thirteen career caps this season.
Luisao (Brazil, DC, 32) - The Benfica captain is a man of tremendous experience with almost 400 matches played for club and country over the last decade. Much like our 32-year-old captain, Luisao has played a diminished role this season, not in the least part due to spectacular controversy.
Jardel (Brazil, DC, 27) - Similar in build to Luisao - we may remember these two massive trees getting the runaround by the trio of Kalou-Torres-Ramires last season (haha!) - this Brazilian arrived to replace another. Despite his size however, Jardel has yet to show any of the awesomeness of David Luiz. He started this season in the reserves, but has come to challenge Luisao for playing time, even getting a start away to Fenerbahce in the Europa League semifinal first leg.
Maxi Pereira (Uruguay, DR, 28) - Pulled across the Atlantic as a 23-year-old from Montevideo, Pereira has since made over 200 appearances for Benfica, mostly as a right back. Known for his "tenacity," to put it in nice terms, Pereira would not look out of place on a rugby pitch. My heart already weeps* for Eden Hazard's ankles and knees and legs and head and face and any other exposed body-part.
* turns out Pereira is suspended for the final (and Hazard probably too injured); my heart no longer weeps - yey!
Lorenzo Melgarejo (Paraguay, DL, 22) - Completing a usually all-South American backline is the speedy, young striker-turned-wingback who is putting the finishing touches on his breakout season. Spent last season on loan after his arrival from Paraguay. Managed to overcome the ignominy of scoring an own goal on his Benfica debut and has even earned his first international cap.
Andre Almeida (Portugal, DR/DL/DM, 22) - A bit of a utility man, hometown kid Almeida has almost as many appearances in Europe as in the Primeira Liga.
Nemanja Matic (Serbia, DM, 24) - Carlo Ancelotti gave him three subsitute appearances during The Double, but halfway through the next season - while on loan at Vitesse - he was packaged off as part of the David Luiz deal. His development since has not only allowed Benfica to cash-in on both Javi Garcia and Axel Witsel, but also to set Matic's release clause at an astronomical €45 million. Considering some of Chelsea's midfield struggles this season, it would not be unfair to say that Matic may have been one who actually got away. Using his prowess in the air and on the ground, with the ball and without the ball, Matic is a true midfield controller.
Enzo Perez (Argentina, MC, 27) - Slowed by a knee injury in his first year, Perez's second year at Benfica has been much more successful. Although adept on the wing, Perez has formed a strong partnership with Matic in the center of midfield, while still staying a viable attacking threat.
Carlos Martins (Portugal, MC, 31) - Just a backup, mostly to Perez, after spending last season on loan at Granada in Spain's La Liga. Apparently he's "noted for his long-range shots," a skill that has netted him zero goals in 24 appearances this season. Duly noted.
Pablo Aimar (Argentina, MC, 33) - Big-mouth.
Eduardo Salvio (Argentina, MR, 22) - It took Atletico Madrid €10 million to whisk Salvio out of Buenos Aires. Two years later, Benfica paid a club record €13.5 million (having already bought 20% of his rights for €2.5 million earlier). All of that may end up looking like a bargain for a player with ever increasing promise. Deployed on the right wing, Salvio has lit up the charts lately, scoring ten of his thirteen goals since January. The third leading scorer also has ten assists to his name (also good for third, behind Gaitan and Lima) and leads all outfield players in appearances.
Nicolas Gaitan (Argentina, AML/AMC, 25) - The jewel of Benfica's attacking band, arriving from Boca Juniors with a mission to fill the hole left by Angel Di Maria. Nominally a left winger, he'll be out there doing his best Hazard impression. Leads the team in assists. His constant movement caused plenty of trouble for Chelsea last year and we should expect more of the same this time around as well.
Ola John (Holland, AML/AMR, 20) - Without even seeing him play, I'm predisposed to liking him for he was born on May 19th. Younger brother of ex-Fulham striker Collins John, Ola broke onto the scene with FC Twente last year, earning himself a €10+ million move to Benfica after turning down the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. Named in the provisional squad for Euro 2012, John got his first cap earlier this year. With his height, skill, and comfort using either feet, I'd bet good money that he does end up in one of the top leagues sooner rather than later.
Oscar Cardozo (Paraguay, ST, 29) - Although my perception is shaded by him being another CM/FM all-star (and that may be an understatement for the 6'4" giant), it's still somewhat surprising that Cardozo never made it out of the Portuguese league. Having been with Benfica since 2007, he's scored over 150 goals in about 250 appearances. Forming a deadly partnership with Lima, Cardozo is enjoying his best season since 2010 with 30 goals scored in all competitions.
Lima (Brazil, ST, 29) - A late bloomer if there ever was one, Lima's breakout season came at age 28 with SC Braga. Often fielded together - the small to Cardozo's big - it's a fearsome partnership. Between the two of them, they've combined for 58 goals in all competitions this season - or almost exactly half of Benfica's 120 total scored.
Rodrigo (Spain, ST, 22) - Rotated freely with either Cardozo or Lima, the Brazilian-born striker from Real Madrid's youth system has scored double-digit goals for the second straight year. Earlier this year he became the all-time leading scorer for Spain U21. Yet another future star.