It's go time. It's our last chance for silverware in a season where we've had 8 chances to score one. Of course, The Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup, and Club World Cup shouldn't have been priorities, we should have picked up one of them, and not been embarrassed in any of them. Alas, we lost to City in the first, got blown out by Falcao, Thibaut Courtois, and Atletico Madrid in the second, and made David Luiz cry in the third. Poor form all around.
In terms of trophies we might actually want to win, we've come up empty four times. In the Premier League, we started fabulously, topping the table for several weeks early on. Since then, our form has slipped, we've sacked Robbie Di Matteo, replaced him with Rafa Benitez, and continued in roughly the same form while United romped to a final Premier League title for Sir Alex Ferguson. Luckily, we've managed to secure -- barring Tottenham winning 18-0 while we lose, or something -- the Top Four, and, with it, another season of Champions League football.
Carling Capital One Cup, we destroyed Stephen Hunt-employing Wolverhampton Wanderers on their trip to League One before overcoming Manchester United in a crazy match which went to extra time just days after we were Clattenburged, also against United. From there, we beat old enemies Leeds before going out in the two-legged semi-final to eventual winners Swansea. In that semi-final, we were deservedly-beaten, though Eden Hazard's red card for kicking a ball boy didn't help.
In the FA Cup, we overcame Southampton, Brentford( after a replay), Middlesbrough, and Manchester United( again after a replay), before facing Manchester City in the semi-final at Wembley. Again, the football gods blessed us with another poor refereeing performance from Chris Foy, who not only managed to miss Sergio Agüero stamping on David Luiz' butt with his studs, but Vincent Kompany half-stripping Fernando Torres in the penalty area. As bad as the referee was, we allowed two cheap goals in forty-seven minutes.
Domestically, we've had a disappointing season, but not as disappointing as our European season. After semi-miraculously claiming the trophy last season, we became the first holders to ever fail to emerge from the group stage, after away losses to Shakhtar and Juventus and a home draw, also to Juventus. Sadly, we never looked good enough to qualify against what should have been a relatively-straightforward group. From there, we ended up in the Europa League.
For Chelsea under Abramovich, it was definitely a new frontier. Unlike most top teams who've fallen into UEFA's secondary competition, we didn't use it as an excuse to give a few youngsters a run-out or two in in European competition. Instead, we took the competition seriously, and undertook the trek to Amsterdam. After surviving three nervy rounds against Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharest, and Rubin Kazan, and brushing aside Basel in the semi-final, we've made it.
The squad is in Amsterdam, and ready to play its second European final in less than a year. If they do emerge victorious against a not-to-be-taken-lightly Benfica side, they'll make European history for the third time in a year. In Munich, they became the first London club to ever win UEFA's top competition, then became the first holders to exit at the group stage, and, with a win, will become the first side to ever hold both the European Cup/Champions League and UEFA Cup/Europa League simultaneously.
Chelsea would also join the illustrious company of Juventus, Ajax, and Bayern Munich to have won the aforementioned competitions as well as the now-defunct UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, which Chelsea won twice, first in 1971, and again in 1998. It's a club so exclusive that some clubs as famous as Real Madrid, Liverpool, Internazionale, Porto, and Feyenoord can't ever join it, as they've never won the Cup Winners' Cup. Beyond the historical implications a win would have, we, the fans, need this. We've suffered too much through the nightmare of a marathon season to see our club fall at yet another hurdle.
For some reason, The fact that Benfica haven't won a European trophy in 51 years, and have lost six straight European finals doesn't reassure me. We've made a habit out of letting the unprecedented happen this season. Two of our players, David Luiz and Ramires, have history with Benfica, as former players. Benfica and their manager Jorge Jesus will be looking for a measure of revenge after Chelsea defeated them last year on their way to Munich.
Chelsea Team News: The biggest story, of course, is that Eden Hazard will take no part in the final. After tweaking his hamstring late on in the Top Four-securing win against Aston Villa, the Belgian wonderkid was always going to be a major doubt, but the final will be that little bit less-special for his absence. Also doubtful, and, probably out, is club captain John Terry. The former England captain was stretchered off against Villa with an ankle injury, and is unlikely to be risked with other defensive options available. Last year's Champions League Final debutant Ryan Bertrand, like Hazard, didn't train, and will miss the chance at a second-straight final. John Obi Mikel is again unlikely to feature.
Benfica Team News: Unlike Chelsea, Benfica have no real injuries to speak of, though they lost to Porto at the weekend to just about rule them out of title contention. This could either be a positive or negative for Chelsea, depending on hos Jorge Jesus is able to motivate his players. [Oops. Had I read Dave's piece on the Benfica squad, I'd have known Maxi Pereira is suspended.]
Predicted Chelsea Team: (4-2-3-1) Petr Cech; Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Ashley Cole; Ramires, Frank Lampard; Oscar, Juan Mata, Victor Moses; Fernando Torres
Predicted Benfica Team: (4-3-3) Artur; [Somebody], Luisão, Eziquiel Garay, Andre Almeida; Enzo Perez, Nemanja Matic, Nico Gaitan; Lima, Oscar Cardozo, Eduardo Salvio
Date and Time: Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 19:45 BST, 2:45pm EDT, Thursday, 16 May 2013: 00:15 IST
Your time can be found here if it's not listed.
Weather: Weather for Amsterdam can be found here.
Venue: Amsterdam Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Referee: Björn Kuipers, Netherlands.
Television Coverage: USA: FOX Soccer, FOX Soccer 2 Go, ESPN Deportes; UK: ITV1; India: TEN Sports India, Ten Action, Ten HD.
Your television coverage can be found here if it's not listed.