The Big Match Tactical View: Benfica v Chelsea

15May 2013

Europa Liga


Michael Cox thinks Chelsea will prevail in wide areas in Wednesday's Europa League final.


Benfica v Chelsea, Wednesday 7:45, ITV1.

Match Odds: Benfica 3.15, Chelsea 2.54, The Draw 3.4.


Benfica's preparation for the Europa League final could hardly have been worse - Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Porto, where they conceded a stoppage time winner, was a heartbreaking way to lose the biggest game of the Portuguese league season. It is now Porto, rather than Benfica, who will start the final weekend of fixtures on top.


The Europa League final is not so much a distraction for Benfica, and rather an opportunity to put things right. If they are to fail in the league, only a victory over Chelsea would make this season satisfactory for Jorge Jesus' side.


Chelsea's formation and line-up should be predictable. The absence of Eden Hazard means Victor Moses will start on the wing - that's a key area for Chelsea. John Obi Mikel will surely partner Benfica old boy Ramires if fit, with Frank Lampard an alternative.


On the other hand, Benfica have used a variety of shapes this season. Jesus has selected a 4-4-2 or a 4-1-4-1 at times, having favoured a diamond midfield in previous campaigns, although it's more likely to be his standard 4-2-3-1 that starts this final, the same shape he used against Porto on Saturday night.


Although Benfica have a side full of good technical footballers, expect Chelsea to dominate possession at the Amsterdam Arena. Benfica are unlikely to press high up the pitch, and will instead focus upon remaining compact in their own half. Fernando Torres' pace no longer seems a huge threat, so Benfica should be able to hold a high defensive line and deny Chelsea space in behind.


Jesus' primary concern will be in the zone between the lines, where Juan Mata, Oscar and - if fit - Eden Hazard will roam. Mata is unquestionably Chelsea's key player, and Benfica can be guilty of leaving too much space in that central zone for the opposition number ten to exploit. Nemanja Matic - formerly of Chelsea - is probably Benfica's key player. He plays a left-of-centre holding role in front of the defence, and must stop Mata.


Matic usually has another midfielder alongside him, Enzo Perez - but it's not inconceivable that Jesus could select Perez and another central midfielder, perhaps Carlos Martins, in a 4-1-4-1 system. That would give Benfica a more solid feel in the centre, although Mata could be able to skip either side of Matic into dangerous positions. Matic has a habit of getting into trouble with referees (seven bookings in 24 league games and four bookings in five Europa League starts) and at 3.0 is a decent bet to be cautioned here.


Where Chelsea can really cause problems, however, is down the flanks. Jesus is without experienced right-back Maxi Pereira through suspension, which means 22-year-old Andre Almeida will play on that side. On the opposite flank, left-back Lorenzo Malgarejo is probably Benfica's weak link, and can look nervous against direct dribblers.


Not only are Benfica's full-backs unimpressive, they lack protection from the midfield. Benfica often struggle against attacking full-backs because they use young, creative players in wide midfield positions - the likes of Ola John, Eduardo Salvio, Nicolas Gaitan aren't always defensively reliable, and Rafael Benitez will probably ask Ashley Cole and Cesar Azpilicueta to motor forward and stretch the play.


Overall, Chelsea's price of 2.54 seems a little high. Benfica have a talented group of players, but Jesus' record in big matches is very poor, and while Chelsea fans still don't have much love for Rafael Benitez, this seems like the type of tight contest he might prevail in.


The only blow is Hazard's injury - without cup-tied Demba Ba, Chelsea lack attacking options from the bench. Still, I'll back Chelsea at 2.54, especially after Benfica's weekend disappointment.


Recommended bets:

Back Matic to be shown a card at 3.0

Back Chelsea to win (in 90 minutes) at 2.54



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Keywords: The Big Match Tactical View, Benfica, Chelsea

Source: Betfair

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