LISBON – Benfica coach Jorge Jesus got his wish when his side drew Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals but the hosts will need all their firepower to inflict damage on the wounded Premier League club in Tuesday’s first leg.
Benfica face Chelsea after being held to a frustrating 0-0 draw at Olhanense which left them in second place in Portugal, one point behind leaders Porto.
“I haven’t changed my opinion, I am still happy to face Chelsea. All teams are strong, some more than others. Chelsea is performing a nice recovery, has a good team, but I still maintain my opinion,” coach Jesus said.
“I prefer to play against English teams, it is true that maybe we adapt ourselves better to the English.”
The Eagles played a major role in knocking Manchester United out of the tournament in the group phase, drawing twice against the Premier League champions.
Coach Jorge Jesus left Pablo Aimar on the bench at the weekend and when he brought him on the Argentine got himself sent off.
At least the 32-year-old playmaker will be rested and looking to make amends on Tuesday when the hosts will rely on him to orchestrate their attacks and create chances for goal machines Oscar Cardozo and Rodrigo.
Cardozo is Benfica’s top scorer in the Champions League and championship.
At the back Brazil centre back Luisao will likely form a partnership with compatriot Jardel in the absence of Ezequiel Garay who is doubtful.
Chelsea’s revival under interim coach Roberto Di Matteo has stalled in the last week with a 2-1 defeat at Manchester City on Wednesday and an uninspiring performance when they were second best in Saturday’s goalless draw against Tottenham Hotspur.
Di Matteo said after Saturday’s match that Chelsea would now probably have to win all of their eight remaining league matches to finish in the top four, but that looks as unlikely as their other possible route back into next season’s Champions League — winning it this season.
If they should get past Benfica they will face either Barcelona or AC Milan in the semi-final with one from Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Olympique Marseille lurking in the final.
Chelsea head to Lisbon with Di Matteo claiming the English FA and Premier League could be harming Chelsea’s Champions League chances by making them play three days before European games.
Chelsea are facing seven matches in 20 days and, asked if Premier League teams should be allowed to play on Friday nights before European games, Di Matteo said: “Absolutely, yes. Because the other federations, they do tend to help their teams to be able to perform as good as possible in Europe. It just doesn’t seem to be happening in England.”
“The fixture list has to take into consideration the fact that teams are maybe qualifying in the FA Cup, going through, and in the Champions League, going through, and try to give them an equal possibility to win games.
“Because there is no doubt in my mind that, on Wednesday, City had a slight advantage because they didn’t play on Sunday.”
Di Matteo also said Chelsea were in danger of becoming “victims” in Europe, with their FA Cup semi-final having been scheduled two or three days before a possible Champions League semi-final against Barcelona or AC Milan.
Scott Minto, who played for both Chelsea and Benfica in his career said this week he expected Chelsea to beat Benfica, but they will be beaten if they underestimate them.
“If they under-estimate them in any way it’ll be a similar result to the one in Napoli when they lost 3-1,” he told reporters this week.
“If they do that, to ask them to reproduce the kind of second leg they produced against Napoli at Stamford Bridge will be difficult.”
It is somewhat ironic that if results had gone their way earlier, Chelsea would still be playing for Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas.
Last season his Porto side finished 21 points ahead of Benfica in the Portuguese title race which earned him his move to London, but after only eight months he was gone.
Di Matteo’s first four matches ended in wins, but after a defeat and a draw some of Chelsea’s old failings look to be returning although former Benfica players David Luiz and Ramires will be desperate to help Chelsea start winning again on their return to the club they helped to the 2010 title.
Chelsea’s Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry would also like to leave Lisbon happier than in Euro 2004 when they all scored penalties there when England were beaten 6-5 on spot-kicks by Portugal in the quarter-finals.
Lampard also scored a late extra-time equaliser for England after Rui Costa, now a Benfica director, had put Portugal 2-1 in front.
Benfica: 1-Artur Moraes; 14-Maxi Pereira, 4-Luisao, 33-Jardel, 3-Emerson; 28-Axel Witsel, 6-Javi Garcia, 20-Nicolas Gaitan, 9-Nolito; 10-Pablo Aimar, 7-Oscar Cardozo.
Chelsea: 1-Petr Cech; 17-Jose Bosingwa, 4-David Luiz, 26-John Terry, 3-Ashley Cole; 8-Frank Lampard, 7-Ramires, 16-Raul Meireles; 10-Juan Mata; 11-Didier Drogba, 23-Daniel Sturridge.