Chelsea eye sole title of season

Londoners start favourites but Benfica will be dangerous customers in the final

Chelsea eye sole title of season

Benfica are more technically gifted than Chelsea but will still go into Wednesday’s Europa League final here as the underdogs, according to former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.

The Swede knows a great deal about Benfica having twice been in charge of the double European champions during his globetrotting career.

“Sure, Chelsea are the favourites with a very balanced squad and with very expensive players but in my opinion the technique of Benfica’s players is a tad better,” Eriksson told the aBola daily newspaper.

“Benfica’s technique is very sharp. They control the ball well and play good football.”
The 1961 and 1962 European champions lean heavily on skilful midfielders Eduardo Salvio, Nicolas Gaitan, Pablo Aimar, Ola John and Nemanja Matic to provide the ammunition for Paraguayan sharpshooter Oscar Cardozo and attacking partners Lima and Rodrigo. Cardozo, Lima and Rodrigo have bagged 71 of the club’s 118 goals this season.

Eriksson, who was at the helm when the Portuguese team lost 1-0 to AC Milan in the 1990 European Cup final in Vienna, believes Benfica will quickly forget about their agonising 2-1 defeat by arch-rivals Porto on Saturday.

Both sides went into the game undefeated and Porto’s victory put them in pole position to win the domestic championship.

Eriksson came close to landing a treble for Benfica in 1983 when they won the domestic league and cup double but lost 2-1 on aggregate to Anderlecht in the two-legged final of the UEFA Cup, the forerunner to the Europa League.

The Swede won the Portuguese league three times in all in his two spells at the club.
Argentine midfielder Enzo Perez also believes Benfica will quickly shrug off the misery of losing to Porto.

In what has become an iconic image in Portugal, coach Jorge Jesus sank to his knees in dispair when Porto scored their stoppage-time winner.

Good memories

Benfica have good memories of Amsterdam where they won the last of their European Cups against Real Madrid in 1962.

Beating all-conquering Real, who had won the trophy five years in a row from 1956-60, was probably the greatest moment in the club’s proud history. Jesus, who was in charge when Benfica were beaten by domestic rivals Braga in the 2011 Europa League semifinals, is looking forward to taking on last year’s Champions League winners Chelsea.

Chelsea can turn to their own ranks for tips on the opposition because Brazilian internationals David Luiz and Ramires were both signed from the Portuguese side. Ramires has been a mainstay of Chelsea’s midfield this season while the versatile Luiz can play alongside his compatriot or in the centre of the defence.

Captain John Terry looks like suffering final heartbreak for the second year in a row after he missed last year’s Champions League shootout victory over Bayern Munich because of suspension.

The former England defender is a doubtful starter after he was carried off on a stretcher when he twisted his ankle in Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Aston Villa. Quicksilver Belgium winger Eden Hazard is also unlikely to play after he injured his hamstring at the weekend.
Playmaker Juan Mata wants Chelsea to end their season in style by winning the Europa League and then confirming a top-three finish in the Premier League with a home victory over Everton on Sunday.

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