Chelsea play Benfica in the final of the Europa League in a last attempt to win silverware at the end of a long season. In some ways, their turbulent season mirrors the 2011/12 campaign in which they defied the odds to win the Champions League and FA Cup under Roberto Di Matteo. He was to suffer a similar fate to his predecessor, Andre Villas-Boas, being sacked early in the new season and replaced by Rafael Benitez. The change was greeted with disdain by Chelsea supporters and the former Liverpool boss has done little to endear himself to the home fans. However, a 2-1 win at Aston Villa on the weekend has at least guaranteed Champions League football for the Blues next season.
The victory at Villa Park was not achieved without injuries to Eden Hazard and John Terry and the loss of Hazard is particularly damaging to Chelsea’s prospects on Wednesday night. The Belgian has been a revelation in his first season in the Premiership and Chelsea must now rely heavily on Juan Mata. He has been superb this season but is finally feeling the effects of a season that followed a busy summer on duty for Spain. He has provided six assists for Chelsea in Europe this season, second only to PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic with seven.
It was left to Frank Lampard to rescue Chelsea on Saturday with two goals that established him as the club’s leading goalscorer of all time. His winning goal was his 203rd in Chelsea colours, surpassing the record of Bobby Tambling. Lampard is out of contract at the end of the season and could hardly have done more to state his case for an extension but it is not a foregone conclusion. Didier Drogba’s last kick in Chelsea blue won the Champions League for them but he was not rewarded with a new contract.
Terry has travelled with the squad but has not been a regular this season and could find himself missing Chelsea’s second consecutive European final after suspension ruled him out in Munich 12 months ago. Fernando Torres may be a shadow of his former self but he has played a leading role in Europe with Demba Ba being ineligible for the tournament after representing Newcastle earlier in the competition.
Benfica will be competing in their ninth major European final but they have not been successful since the European Cup in 1962. The two sides met in March and April last season in the Champions League with Chelsea winning 2-1 at home and 1-0 away. Benfica must also overcome a poor record against English clubs with their 3-1 win over Newcastle in April being their only victory in their last seven meetings.
Benfica surrendered top spot in the Portuguese Liga when Kelvin scored an injury-time winner for Porto last weekend. That was Benfica’s first defeat in domestic competition this season and they now trail Porto by a single point ahead of the final round of fixtures. They have seen off Bayer Leverkusen, Bordeaux, Newcastle and Fenerbahce to get to the final and look certain to provide Chelsea with a severe test.
One of the key players for Benfica will be Brazilian striker Lima who is favorite to open the scoring. Both sides will set their stall out for a tight tactical battle but neutrals will be hoping for an early goal to spark a more open and attacking game.