When the season started, we hoped that we would be able to defend our hard-won Champions League crown. We had spent heavily in the summer on the likes of Eden Hazard, freshened up an ageing squad to some degree and looked forward to having a better chance of winning the Premier League. Sadly, the best we can hope for is the Europa League title as we’ve failed on all other fronts.
Our surprising decision to sack Roberto di Matteo despite lying in second place in the league meant that we brought in Rafael Benitez as an interim replacement. After a very shaky start under the Spaniard, we have managed to stabilise and could yet end the season with a major trophy, even if it’s one none of us thought we would be challenging for.
A final salute
Before Benitez leaves, he knows that he’s steered us to guaranteed Champions League qualification with a game to go; but to try and make us feel a little bit better about his time at Stamford Bridge, he has to lead us to victory against Benfica. It won’t be easy, as the Portuguese giants have some class players in their squad, yet Chelsea are Europa League Betting Favourites at 7/5.
In the Europa League we’ve excelled, albeit against weak opposition. Having failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, we’ve taken apart the likes of FC Basel, Steaua Bucharest and Sparta Prague without playing at our best. However, we’re likely to be without two key men in the form of John Terry and Eden Hazard.
Belief in Jesus?
Under manager Jorge Jesus, Benfica have managed to do the same as Chelsea – keep going in the Europa League after dropping out of the Champions League group stages. A talented squad containing possible future transfer targets like Argentina winger Nicolas Gaitan, Paraguay forward Oscar Cardozo and solid former Real Madrid defender Ezequiel Garay is one not to be taken lightly.
Coming into the final, Benfica could still be left reeling by a dramatic title decider in the league. Up until injury time, they were level at 1-1 against big rivals FC Porto, but a last-gasp winner by opposition striker Kelvin could have cost them the league, having led the table for so long. Picking themselves up for the Europa League final will be tough.
For Chelsea to win, we either have to pray that Fernando Torres does what he’s seldom managed to do since he’s been at the club and find that scoring touch or, more realistically, hope that Juan Mata et al can conjure up some more magic. Mata, along with Oscar and the evergreen Frank Lampard are the most likely scorers.
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