The Champions League roller-coaster continues. The gods were shining down on Chelsea inside Benfica’s Stadium of Light. A 1-0 win thanks to a Kalou goal a quarter of an hour from the end sealed a valuable away win for the Blues. Benfica, by all standards, were poor as the home side. But for all their troubles in the last round, Chelsea deserved an easier one. The defence still had to be organised, disciplined and calculated, but the fear was conspicuously absent, the home crowd stunned into silence. Chelsea have one foot into the semi-finals, where a tasty tie against Barcelona or AC Milan will be before them.
Pre-match, Chelsea could not have underestimated Benfica. The statistics were striking: Chelsea hadn’t won any of their previous five Champions League away games, whilst Benfica were unbeaten in 10 European home games. But there were some positive signs too: Chelsea had only conceded one goal in the last five games where John Terry and David Luiz had started together, and they had won the last 4 games where Salomon Kalou has started.
The team line-up could have suggested some complacency by Roberto Di Matteo, but whilst AVB, if rumours were to be believed, left out the same trio of Essien, Lampard and Drogba in the first leg in Naples because they fell out, Roberto Di Matteo left them out for squad rotation in a packed schedule. Perhaps the most striking change was Ferreira in at right-back, who amazingly had not played a single first-team minute of action since last year.
Under a raucous home support, Benfica had the opening stages. There was no time for nostalgia by Luiz or Ramires, back at their former club, who had to be alert to Benfica attacks.
But Chelsea were assured, composed, ready and waiting. Luiz went on a customary run and striked one wide. The cover of Meireles and Mikel allowed the Brazilian to venture forward. The same man then found Torres, and though the Spaniard took it down brilliantly, his shot was wayward. At least the old confidence to try it was back.
He had another chance before the half was up. Benfica opted to press higher and thus allowed space at the back. But Torres could not capitalise. Doing well to initially get past the marker, he turned to his unfavoured left foot and skied another one. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
Understanding the home crowd would be unhappy if their side did not take full home advantage, Benfica came out with a determination previously absent. Cardozo would have scored had Luiz not been on the goal-line, the ball finding its way to the Paraguayan from a throw-in dealt with poorly by Meireles. Cesar then was next to test Cech.
But Chelsea bounced back and had a few chances of their own. Torres, who often was found on the wings, crossed to Kalou in the centre, who headed a great chance over. Perhaps had the roles been reversed, Torres would have been able to score.
Then it was time for Benfica to call for a penalty. A firmly struck shot hit Terry on the arm, but it was point-blank range and the referee felt it was not deliberate.
Then came the chance of the match thus far, route one. Cech punted the ball forward, over the heads of the Benfica back-line. Mata took it under his control but found the angle too awkward, and could only hit the woodwork. Luisao immediately apologised to his manager, who was incensed at the lapse in concentration.
Meireles soon came off for Lampard, the former Porto man booed incessantly in the Benfica crowd. They nearly had more to shout about, however, the ball nearly fed through but for a stunning intervention by John Terry, who did just enough to take the ball closer to Cech than Cardozo.
But the goal Chelsea’s play deserved was to come. Ramires was scythed down on the right, but play continued. Torres picked the ball up and ran and ran down the right. He waited for his moment to cross it to Kalou, who poked home unmarked. The celebration was great to see, Torres delighted with the goal.
And that was that. Chelsea were able to hold on in the last fifteen minutes. It was the first time Benfica had not scored inside the Estadio de Luz for five years. A job well done for Chelsea. All they need now is a draw in the second leg in a week’s time.