BRAGA, PORTUGAL - MAY 04: Head coach Jorge Jesus (L) of Benfica directs a Benfica training session with an assistant at Estadio Municipal de Braga the day before their UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg match between Braga and Benfica on May 4, 2011 in Braga, Portugal. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Chelsea play against Benfica in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, with the winner getting the privilege of facing Barcelona in the semifinals. For me, that would be incentive enough to call the whole thing off and go get a pint or something instead, but apparently that's not the sort of things professional football teams do, so both sides will indeed be in action at Stamford Bridge tomorrow.
Despite some disparaging remarks from Jorge Jesus and Luisao about the manner of Chelsea's victory in Lisbon, Chelsea did in fact win 1-0 and therefore come into the second leg with a huge advantage. Whether or not they can hold onto said advantage is an entirely different story.
Time/Date: 7:45 PM BST (2:45 PM EDT), Wednesday April 3rd.
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London.
TV information: FOX Soccer Channel (USA), ITV 1 (UK)
Although it sounded as though Chelsea were going to be in some trouble with injuries - the Mail reported that Chelsea had as many as six players who were questionable for the match - Roberto di Matteo has given our side the tentative all-clear. Most important are David Luiz, Didier Drogba and Branislav Ivanovic, who appear to be ok despite having picked up ankle, toe and hamstring injuries respectively. Chelsea should be all-clear for Benfica.
Our opponents are nowhere near as lucky. Rumour has it that both central defenders that started in Lisbon will be missing at the Bridge, and considering that their first-choice pairing was pretty well ripped apart by Ramires and Fernando Torres, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of their backups. Javi Garcia may be forced into the back line as a result.
We know the drill now. Benfica like playing a 4-2-3-1, but they need to attack and Chelsea have the speed to hit them on the counterattack. Ramires on the right wing is a must if we want to replicate the kind of attack that gave us the advantage in Lisbon. Benfica's threat comes from the front four, and they're mobile enough that attempting to man-mark will just result in us getting dragged all over the place - better to stick with zonal and have some strong defenders in the centre.
With their centre back pairing disrupted, I think it might be a good idea to field Didier Drogba instead of Fernando Torres - his style of play would seem to me to be more effective against converted midfielders, who tend to be lightweight, than Torres'. However, Torres' performance against Aston Villa over the weekend make it a much tougher question, and I'm going to err on his side. Here's what I'd like to see:
A solid base and the speed we need to counterattack. Should be pretty fun, right?