Raul Meireles fistbumps his invisible friend Grugrump the Giant.
Well, it was a pretty rough performance, but Chelsea made it through. The Blues building on a 1-0 win against Benfica in Lisbon, dispatched their Portuguese opponents 2-1 to advance to the Champions League semifinals. The visitors had insisted that they were the better side in the first leg, but once again their supposed superiority yielded not much at all in an actual match.
Roberto di Matteo didn't make much in the way of changes from the weekend win at Aston Villa - the only alteration was the insertion of Ramires for Daniel Sturridge. That move made sense given how brilliant Ramires was against left back Emerson in Lisbon, but it would come back to bite Chelsea on Wednesday. Benfica, meanwhile, kept their 4-2-3-1 but had to do some major shuffling to accommodate the absences of Jardel and Luisao. In the end, Javi Garcia was pulled back into the centre of the defence, joined by Emerson. Those two were replaced by Nemanja Matic and Joan Capdevila.
Benfica started brightly, retaining the ball for much of the first five minutes. Chelsea were clearly looking to soak up pressure and hit them on the counterattack, but even when they did have the ball they were sloppy, losing possession in the midfield far too often. That said, it was the Blues who offered the first threat on goal, with Capdevila blocking David Luiz's goalbound shot from a corner, although John Terry repaid the favour with a goalline clearance from Oscar Cardozo.
As the game went on, Chelsea started to establish some semblance of control, and began offering a major threat down the left flank in the form of Ashley Cole, who was interchanging beautifully with Salomon Kalou and Frank Lampard on that side. Eventually, that would lead to the breakthrough. Cole broke into a lovely run that Maxi Pereira failed to track, Terry released him with a wonderful lofted pass, and although the left back's control was poor Javi Garcia went ahead and wiped him out anyway.
It was a clear penalty, despite what Benfica would say (Garcia was booked for the foul, while both Bruno Cesar and Maxi Pereira got done for dissent), and Lampard stepped up to make it 1-0 despite Artur guessing the right way. With a 2-0 aggregate lead, Chelsea were all but through, and their task was made even easier twenty minutes when Pereira went in incredibly late on John Obi Mikel and earned himself a second yellow for his troubles.
Between the penalty and Benfica going down to ten men, it was the visitors who actually looked more likely to score. The midfield was disorganised and the defence not much better, and Jorge Jesus's men were seemingly determined to get back into the match. That said, they weren't too dangerous (save for when they nearly pounced on an error by David Luiz, who was having one of his awful games) - the game was much like the previous leg, in which Chelsea were happy to give their opponents time and space, fairly safe in the knowledge that they'd reply with fairly low-percentage long shots.
Petr Cech was forced into a flying save from Oscar Cardozo early in the second half, but it was the Blues that were in the ascendance after the interval, and they should have killed the game off completely in an extraordinary period which featured what was quite possibly the miss of the season as well as clear-cut chances for all four of the forward players. That Chelsea didn't score was a bit of a worry - we knew that one goal from Benfica could make for a very nervous game, and the defence, with the exception of John Terry, was looking weirdly wobbly on the rare occasions in which the visitors pushed forward.
John Terry being yanked off and heading straight down the tunnel holding his back is one of the least welcome sights at Stamford Bridge, and it was made even worse by the total collapse of the team in his absence. Gary Cahill completely failed to provide the sort of defensive solidarity that Chelsea needed, and it came as no surprise when Benfica finally managed to get a goal.
The way in which they scored, however, was slightly odd. David Luiz completely failed to pick up Javi Garcia on a corner kick and Petr Cech inexplicably did nothing about a delivery that was essentially hit right at him, allowing the makeshift defender to nod in from close range to make the match incredibly stressful. With six minutes plus stoppage time left, it was then a backs-to-the-wall performance from Chelsea, and a pretty shambolic one at that.
Up stepped the unlikeliest of heros: Raul Meireles.
Bosh! Just like that, Chelsea were guaranteed a spot in the Champions League semifinals. Barcelona await - that'll be fun - but in the meantime let's enjoy our first semifinal spot since 2009.
Chelsea's man of the match?
Raul Meireles (46 votes)
John Terry (89 votes)
Petr Cech (75 votes)
Ashley Cole (37 votes)
John Obi Mikel (104 votes)
Other (16 votes)
367 total votes