Benfica vs Chelsea: Who Will Win The Europa League Final?
Will Chelsea achieve European success in consecutive seasons? Can Benfica cause the upset and claim the Europa League title? Today on the blog Joe Krishnan makes the case for both teams in the lead up to this week's Europa League final in Amsterdam.
Not in their wildest dreams would Chelsea have believed they would be on course to secure a second consecutive European title, especially with the turmoil surrounding the club this season. Of course, those dreams are not so wild as it will not be the highly-coveted Champions League that they will be looking to defend. A nightmare season which has included fans protests, a fight to qualify for the Champions League and several public fallouts has ensured Chelsea’s season could become a nightmare if they fail to triumph in Amsterdam.
The Blues have the tough task of overcoming a side they know all too well in the Europa League Final, widely viewed as inferior to its lucrative and bigger sister, with the West London outfit meeting Portuguese giants Benfica in last season’s Champions League semi-final.
Both sides have players amongst their ranks with previous history with their opponents, and so it will be an emotional final for former Benfica players David Luiz and Ramires, as the pair made their reputations at the Lisbon-based club.
Today we take a look at how either side can win the Europa League, and whether interim manager Rafa Benitez can become the first manager to win the competition with two different clubs.
How Chelsea Will Win The Europa League Final
At the start of the season, Chelsea were entered into eight different competitions. And after bringing in some of the world’s best talent in the form of Eden Hazard and Oscar, many refused to dismiss the idea they could emulate the success of the 2011-12 season which brought the FA Cup and of course, the Champions League.
Now, the West London outfit have the opportunity to add to their recent bulging collection of trophies by becoming only the fourth side to win both the European Cup and the formerly known UEFA Cup. Failure to do that, however, would deem their treacherous season as nothing but a disaster. The sacking of Roberto Di Matteo brought much criticism of the club, and a season without a trophy would not only mark a disappointment, but that the decision to sack Di Matteo was the wrong one. And that is nothing something Roman Abramovich is used to.
The Blues have faced a difficult journey ahead of the Europa League Final, and just like their opponents, agonisingly dropped out of the Champions League group stage. Difficult trips to Russia, Czech Republic and Romania on top of a gruelling fixture list means that Benitez has had to rotate the squad to maintain freshness and prevent fatigue. To his credit, the former Liverpool coach has led the club to Champions League qualification in the league, FA Cup and League Cup semi-finals as well as the Club World Cup Final.
The main threat will be posed by their attacking midfield in the mould of Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata. Benfica will need to nullify the threat posed especially by the Spaniard Mata. Observing them in action has been a joy to behold this season, and the hefty £75 million investment in the three has certainly paid dividends. Between them, they have created 78 goals as well as scoring 43 in all competitions; a simply stunning return from the creative trio. Mata, in particular, will be the key supply line for any Chelsea chances, and Benfica know if they keep the former Valencia playmaker quiet, they have a serious chance of winning the tie.
In addition to them, the Portuguese side will also need to keep an eye on the Blues’ new all-time goalscorer Frank Lampard, who incredibly scored his 203rd goal of Chelsea career with a double against Aston Villa at the weekend. The veteran’s time may be coming to a close at Stamford Bridge but if anything, it will provide him with extra motivation to perform well in Amsterdam. Lampard has struck 17 goals this season, so it will be up to Nemanja Matic, a Blues player himself until 2011, to keep his contributions to a minimum.
How Benfica Will Win The Europa League Final
If the club were perhaps of a richer nature, they would be lining up for the Final with some of the biggest names in world football on their team-sheet. The likes of Luiz and Ramires have departed for big fees to join their opponents Chelsea, costing a combined £39 million, while highly-rated stars such as Angel Di Maria and Fabio Coentrao moved to Real Madrid in recent years.
Nevertheless, the quality that the current squad possesses should not be ignored by any means, and the club must be praised for their exceptional scouting process. When Di Maria left, Benfica took the £25 million fee and reinvested it back into the club before swooping for Boca Juniors winger Nicolas Gaitan for around a third of that fee.
However, their reputation as one of Europe’s most improved sides is well deserved, and without a doubt, they have the ability to cause Chelsea some problems in attack in the shape of a Latin American quartet. The attack consisting of Gaitan, his countryman Eduardo Salvio, Brazilian forward Lima and towering forward Oscar Cardozo, have been responsible for 44 goals in the Liga Sagres this season.
Up until this weekend, Benfica were unbeaten in the Liga Sagres, and had fierce rivals Porto not been in such good form as well this campaign, they may have secured their first league title since 2010. A last-gasp 2-1 defeat to the current champions almost guaranteed they will miss out on domestic success once again. But rather much like their league form, their exploits in Europe have also been impressive, picking up six victories in their eight games since dropping out from the Champions League group stage, beating Chelsea’s Premier League rivals Newcastle in the quarter-finals.
In those eight games, Cardozo has notched six goals, displaying the kind of attacking prowess which has seen the likes of Manchester City linked with his signature. The 29-year-old has been a lethal force for Benfica since his move from Newells Old Boys in 2007, and it will be a necessity for Chelsea to keep him quiet if they are to emerge triumphant from this tie. However, Cardozo is intelligent enough to take advantage of Chelsea’s tired defence and put them to the sword with his excellent finishing.
Benfica may have missed out on a mouth-watering all-Portuguese final with Porto in 2011, but given the chance to win their first piece of European silverware since 1962, Jesus’ side will be up for the challenge and hope to add a silver lining to their disappointment of missing out on the Portuguese league title.
Europa League Final Odds
As the footballing world watches on in eager anticipation, Chelsea will no doubt be disappointed that they are unable to defend their title at Wembley in two weeks time. On the other hand, any silverware for the club is cherished and for their outgoing manager Rafa Benitez, a triumph will be the best way to sign off in style.
The graphs below display the implied probability for the key betting markets based on average bookmaker odds. For more betting data click on the graphs to visit the Europa League Final bettingexpert Clash page.
If you're looking for Europa League Final betting tips, visit our Europa League Betting Tips Board before kickoff.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeKrishnan.