Halfway there for Chelsea
Di Matteo deserves credit after changes in tactics and personnel
Last Updated: 27/03/12 11:17pm
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo has his doubters, but he produced a tactical masterstroke to guide his side to a 1-0 first-leg lead over Benfica in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
The Premier League club, England's last representatives in Europe, produced one of their best performances of a troubled season as Salomon Kalou's second-half away goal gave them a mightily impressive win in Lisbon on Tuesday night.
And credit must go to Di Matteo, who raised eyebrows before kick-off by making six changes to the team which played out an uninspiring 0-0 league draw with Tottenham at the weekend.
Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien were all on the substitutes' bench, with Fernando Torres starting in attack, and, after initially looking like a gamble, it paid off for Chelsea in a disciplined, determined and energised display of counter-attacking
Di Matteo, having taken over until the end of the season after Andre Villas-Boas was sacked earlier in March, suffered none of the misfortune of his former colleague, who had been widely criticised when dropping his established stars in the last 16 first-leg defeat at Napoli.
It was Chelsea's first away win in the Champions League this season and it was also the first time Jorge Jesus' toothless Benfica have failed to score at home in 22 matches in the current campaign.
Surprisingly, the 65,000-capacity Estadio da Luz was far from full, something that was reflected by a strange atmosphere.
The game lacked intensity in the opening 18 minutes, but it finally came to life when Raul Meireles was booked for tripping Nicolas Gaitan in full flight.
Moments later, John Terry was caught out by a Bruno Cesar ball over the top, but recovered to put off Oscar Cardozo as the striker tried to finish.
Torres volleyed over wildly after some excellent chest control, before Cardozo nodded Gaitan's pinpoint cross over the top, then Maxi Pereira's ball forced a panicky clearance from the excellent David Luiz.
Meireles drilled over from 25 yards before appearing to get away with a handball in the centre-circle.
Benfica were marginally on top, but even their slickest moves were leading nowhere.
Five minutes before half-time, a goalkeeper was finally called into a meaningful save when Meireles' skidding 25-yarder was palmed wide by Artur.
Luiz was lucky to escape a caution for felling Pablo Aimar moments after the restart, but was in the right place at the right time after the free-kick was played in, clearing Cardozo's stinging strike off the line.
Benfica were finally playing with some urgency, but their accuracy continued to let them down, as did Kalou's when he wasted a glorious chance for Chelsea, heading over Torres' left-wing cross.
There were handball shouts against Terry when he blocked Pereira's follow-up after Ashley Cole had thrown himself at the initial shot.
Salt in the wounds
Juan Mata could have immediately rubbed salt into the wound by giving Chelsea the lead on the hour mark.
Petr Cech's clearance went straight over the Benfica defence to Mata, who rounded Artur, but hit the post from a narrow angle.
Axel Witsel's deflected drive almost looped over Cech, who would have been beaten had Jardel's bullet header from Gaitain's cross been either side of him.
Luisao picked up a yellow card for felling Ramires before Di Matteo withdrew Meireles for Lampard.
Opposite number Jesus immediately responding by taking off Aimar and Cesar for Rodrigo and former Chelsea player Nemanja Matic.
If Benfica were hoping that would be the catalyst for a final push, they were mistaken as Chelsea took the lead 15 minutes from time.
Ramires showed remarkable determination and no little skill down the right to release Torres, who burst into the box and kept his composure to square for Kalou to slide home.
Brazilian Ramires hurt himself in the process of creating the chance, but was able to continue as Chelsea looked to hold on to a lead away from home in Europe for the first time this season.
Benfica threw on Nolito for Javi Garcia, while Ferreira and Kalou came off for Jose Bosingwa and Daniel Sturridge, whose breakaway should have seen Chelsea kill the game, and possibly the tie, when they wasted a four-on-two chance.They almost paid in stoppage-time when Cole stabbed Gaitan's cross narrowly wide of his own goal.
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|8||Shots on Target||3|
|9||Shots off Target||8|
|52.2||1st Half Poss.||47.8|
|60.7||2nd Half Poss.||39.3|
UEFA Champions League Group A
UEFA Champions League Group B
UEFA Champions League Group C
|3||Zenit St. Petersburg||3||4|
UEFA Champions League Group D
UEFA Champions League Group E
UEFA Champions League Group F
|1||Paris St Germain||3||7|
UEFA Champions League Group G
UEFA Champions League Group H
Benfica v Chelsea
Didier Drogba has highlighted the importance Chelsea's away goal could prove in their Champions League quarter-final with Benfica.
Paulo Ferreira was delighted to make his first appearance of 2012 and only his third start all season against Benfica on Tuesday.
Salomon Kalou was pleased to offer a reminder of his ability with the winning goal in Chelsea's victory over Benfica in Lisbon.