Champions League – Benfica v Chelsea
There was almost an audible sigh of relief in west London when Chelsea were drawn against Benfica in the Champions League quarter-finals. The general feeling is that it could have been a lot worse, though the Blues will still have their path to the final blocked by either AC Milan or Barcelona should they emerge unscathed.
Undoubtedly, this a good chance for the Blues to reach the last four and rescue something from what has been a turbulent season. But chickens should certainly not be counted before they are hatched as the Portuguese champions have already shown themselves to be a very decent side and it shouldn’t be forgotten that lower-ranked compatriots Sporting have already dumped Manchester City out of the Europa League this year. Benfica twice held Manchester United in the group stages and could count themselves unlucky not to have won on both occasions. They led at the Estadio da Luz and Old Trafford and ended up topping their section as the Premier League champions crashed out. A 2-0 second-leg win over Zenit St Petersburg in the first knockout round ensured an aggregate success over the Russians and they’ll be going all out to make home advantage count against Chelsea in the first leg of the quarter-finals.
It’s something of a worry that Roberto Di Matteo’s side have failed to win away from home in the Champions League so far this season, though they did lead at Valencia, Genk and Leverkusen in the group stages and again against Napoli in the first knockout round. But they’ve been conceding sloppy goals and won’t always be able to rescue the situation at Stamford Bridge, as they did against the Italians a couple of weeks ago. A fit John Terry would be a huge boost to Chelsea and Di Matteo will almost certainly revert to the old guard against in Lisbon as the UK’s last surviving European representative bids to extend their campaign but Benfica are strong at home and backed by a passionate crowd and will make the Premier League side work very hard for a result.
Both teams may well score in the first leg (4/5) but, given Chelsea’s away form in Europe this term, Benfica are fancied to take a narrow lead to London at 13/8 and are 13/1 to come from behind and win.