Chelsea Face Benfica In The Champions League, Here's 5 Reasons For Blues Optimism

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TERRY
John Terry celebrates his header against Napoli in the previous round | PA

After the thrilling comeback against Napoli in the Champions League round-of-16 tie, Chelsea were dealt a kind hand when drawn against Benfica.

The Portuguese champions will pose a tough task, but the Blues avoided Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich out of the seven possible opponents.

Barca lie in wait for a potential semi-final clash, but Jorge Jesus' Encanardos are first on the menu for interim Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo.

After four wins from his first four games, the cracks have begun to appear though. His team were awful against a Manchester City side stuck in second gear last week, while when Tottenham visited Stamford Bridge at the weekend it was Chelsea who were the less adventurous of the two when, arguably, they needed three points more.

David Luiz is excited about returning to his former club:

Di Matteo instilled West Brom with a positive footballing philosophy, but he may be prepping for success on the continent judging by Chelsea's recent reticence.

Benfica drew twice with and topped Manchester United's group in the first half of the season. They are third in Portugal's top tier but lie just two points behind leaders Braga.

Staples of honing homegrown and South American talent, the club has generated over £100m from the sales of Chelsea duo David Luiz and Ramires, as well as Angel Di Maria and Fabio Coentrao - who both joined Real Madrid - in the last two years.

Now Javi Garcia, Nicolas Gaitan, Oscar Cardozo and Alex Witsel are the emerging stars being targeted by Europe's giants, with Argentine veteran Pablo Aimar spurring them on.

And for all Didier Drogba's faux-quaking at drawing the two-time European champions, they boast more pace than this pedestrian Chelsea squad. Not to mention twice as many European Cups. Yet Chelsea have much cause for optimism ahead of tonight's game...

RELAXED

Just look at Didier Drogba's reaction to the draw. Him and his team-mates are not under the same duress as prior to either games against Napoli, and the 5-4 aggregate win over the Italian side is an added confidence booster to what has been a patchy European campaign.

EXPERIENCE

The Blues are not the force they were, but their enviable experience was a huge advantage in the return leg two weeks ago, and it could prove to be pivotal against Benfica too. The Neapolitans' forwards, despite their speed of thought, choked at the Bridge while the porous defence was exposed more drastically than at the Stadio San Paolo. Benfica are a similar entity and were not punished sufficiently by a misfiring United at Old Trafford in November.

NO RECORD BURDEN

Surprisingly, this will be the first time the two clubs have faced each other, and while records should be ignored as often as possible, they still affect players' thought process. Bereft of such a burden, Chelsea however have not won any of their previous five away games in Europe. A 2-0 victory versus Copenhagen over a year ago was the last time they recorded success on the continent.

HAPPINESS

The first leg in Naples was marred by supposed subordination from players who clarified their distrust in Andre Villas-Boas again. Now, with John Terry's presence on the touchline becoming as influential as on the pitch, the players are contented with the present set-up, and Di Matteo's display of man-management with Torres will have only augmented the harmony.

But is he a Chelsea fan?


Chelsea FC
Also in Lisbon, singer James Morrison, spotted by several staff members. (SL)

EUROPEAN AMBITION

Relics of the Mourinho era they may be, but some squad members are still desperate to win the Champions League. As selfish and risible the player power culture at Chelsea is, the goal of becoming European champions for the first time brings out their selfless side. Time is running out, but the likes of Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Ashley Cole would relish a rematch with Barcelona in the semis, having gone so close to beating them at the same stage in 2009.

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