Roberto Di Matteo and his coaching staff deserve credit for setting Chelsea up perfectly to contain Benfica’s potent attacking threat. Dealing with a three-pronged attack comprising Nicolás Gaitán, Axel Witsel and Óscar Cardozo is no mean feat, yet a rearguard of Ashley Cole, David Luiz and Paulo Ferreira – who has only made five appearances this term – and marshalled by John Terry pulled together brilliantly to keep a clean sheet in a display of defensive stability that André Villas-Boas could only have dreamed of. “I’d like to keep that private and confidential,” was Di Matteo’s response when asked if he had sought the advice of Villas-Boas before Tuesday’s clash. Perhaps the sacked Chelsea boss’s talents, whose role when at Stamford Bridge during José Mourinho’s reign involved the preparing of detailed scouting reports on the opposition, were subtly evident on Tuesday.
Ramires, who was part of Jorge Jesus’s 2010 league title-winning Benfica side during his one-year stay in Portugal, had a brilliant game on the right as he relished the chance to torment his former team-mates. Using his raw pace to great effect, the Brazilian caused left-back Emerson problems all night as he rose to the occasion in Lisbon. Despite being clattered to the ground, he was still able to poke a pass through for Fernando Torres to surge down the right and pick out Salomon Kalou to net that crucial away goal in the 75th minute. Meanwhile, Luiz, who also has a winner’s medal from the same season, put in an impressive, composed display at centre-half that many may have thought he was not capable of producing.
The only statistic Raul Meireles can be proud of this season is his impressive tally of 40 appearances for the Blues since joining on transfer deadline day last summer. Mediocre more often than not, the Portugal midfielder is yet to produce in a Chelsea shirt – and Tuesday’s game was no exception. His only offering at the Estádio da Luz, where he received a predictably hostile reception as a result of his spell at Porto, was a long-range effort which Benfica goalkeeper Artur pushed wide just before half-time. It was no surprise to see him hauled off mid-way through the second half and replaced by Frank Lampard.
The Spanish striker has been steadily improving since he netted a brace against Leicester City in the FA Cup earlier in the month – and he put in a solid shift on Tuesday, capped with his assist for Kalou’s goal. True, the defending by the home side for that particular passage of play was nothing short of horrendous, but the former Liverpool man still did well to leave his team-mate with a tap-in. The 28-year-old tried some audacious trickery and fired some speculative efforts at goal in Lisbon – and although not always successful, it suggests he has found that bit of confidence that was lacking during his lengthy goal drought.
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