I managed to avoid watching Chelsea play against Tottenham Hotspur thanks to being on a plane back from Holland, but, of course, I know the result, the score being the first thing I checked when I finally ended up back in Seattle. It's kind of disheartening to see Chelsea play a 0-0 game when they more or less had to win. Disheartening to the point that I don't really feel like writing this preview.
But hey, life moves on, and so must we. Chelsea are in the Champions League quarterfinals thanks to an amazingly fun win against Napoli two weeks ago (remember fun? Fun is awesome), and Portuguese outfit Benfica are the club's opponents. The first leg is in Lisbon tomorrow and by my reading of history we can lose 3-1 and still be totally fine.
Game Date/Time: 7:45 PM BST (2:45 PM EST), Tuesday, March 27th
Venue: Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal.
TV: Sky Sports 2 (UK), Fox Soccer Channel (USA).
Most of you will be familiar with Benfica as the former home of David Luiz and Ramires, but the team now is nothing like the one that featured the two Brazilians plus the likes of Fabio Coentrao and Angel di Maria, both of whom now play for Real Madrid. Benfica went on a comprehensive rebuilding program following their absolute evisceration at the hands of Andre Villas-Boas' Porto last season, and they're much more competitive this time out, sitting at second in the Primeira Liga but only one point back from top spot. In the Champions League, they finished first in the group that feature Manchester United, and then came back from a 3-2 loss in Russia to advance past Zenit St. Petersburg in the round of 16.
They're a pretty decent side, although not one I've watched in as much detail as, say, Napoli. They're a good team and they're undefeated at home, playing in a 4-2-3-1 double pivot (against good teams, which we ostensibly are) with a solid midfield five behind the rather excellent Oscar Cardozo. They've suffered just one defeat at the Estadio da Luz, and it seems unlikely that Chelsea will just be able to breeze in and come away with a win, especially when you consider our away form in Europe.
So, who do the Blues have to worry about tomorrow? Although Cardozo can hurt you, it's really the third band that's dangerous. They're much more fluid than Chelsea's recent implementation of the shape, and the combination of Nolito, Nicolas Gaitan and Pablo Aimar will be a nightmare to track across the pitch - the Blues are going to have to be very careful not to give them enough space to operate. Bruno Cesar is hurt, although that's not really that big a deal as far a Benfica are concerned - he's good, but he's not as good as his teammates.
Fortunately, Branislav Ivanovic is back with the team after missing most of the Manchester City loss and the Tottenham Hotspur draw, and if he can start the right flank looks far more solid. I'd trust Chelsea's defence, which apart from the meltdown at City has looked far more assured under Roberto di Matteo than it did under Villas-Boas, to keep Benfica from overrunning us, and I fancy the team to score at least one away goal too.
The tactical concerns for Chelsea should be about getting their best players on the pitch more than anything else, and that means something fairly similar to the team we ran out in the second leg against Napoli, Gary Cahill's performance against Tottenham might see him get the nod over David Luiz at centre back, especially if di Matteo's looking for a set piece goal, but I'd stick with the Brazilian for this one because of his ability to start counterattacks with intelligent long passes.
So, assuming Ivanovic is fit, here's my lineup:
Am I expecting great things here? Not really, but if we get an away goal we'll be in pretty good shape unless we're absolutely blown out. A score draw would be a fantastic result, and that's hardly beyond this Chelsea team. Hopefully we can snap out of this funk and get going again.