Chelsea Club Focus - Kalou leads Blues to Champions League victory
There has always been talk of what is the perfect away performance in European club competition. Some people seem to think it is simply taking a clean sheet back home for the second-leg but what is truly perfect was Chelsea’s Champions League performance against Benfica in Lisbon.
Buoyed by their fabulous comeback win against Napoli in the previous round, manager Roberto Di Matteo was praying his side did not put in the same kind of performance that saw them completely outplayed in that first leg in Naples.
Blues fans would be forgiven for being slightly worried before the game as news filtered through that Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba had all been left on the bench. How ironic that it was leaving Lampard out that started a backlash against previous manager Andre Villas-Boas. But Di Matteo was spot on with his tactics.
The interim manager knew that his team would have to sit back and soak up pressure for a lot of the game being visitors but he that he had players like Juan Mata, Salomon Kalou and the rejuvenated Fernando Torres that could go and win it.
But it wasn’t the game that many would have predicted. Benfica, who held Manchester United to two draws in the group stage, looked a shadow of the team that caused the Red Devils so much trouble.
The main threat for the hosts was striker Oscar Cardozo who almost got in but Chelsea captain John Terry managed to put enough pressure on to kill the attack. And it was Cardozo who had arguably Benfica’s best chance as his stinging shot was cleared off the line by the impressive David Luiz.
As the game went on Chelsea grew into the occasion and started to really believe that they could come away with what would be a fantastic victory. Kalou could see the headlines written for him but could only put his header over from 12 yards after a fine cross from Torres.
The Blues were coming forward with real purpose now and almost went ahead from a real route-one attack. Benfica’s defence fell asleep as Petr Cech’s long ball was allowed to bounce through and set Mata away, who rounded goalkeeper Artur but couldn’t beat the post.
With 15 minutes to go Chelsea got the away goal they deserved. Torres got away down the right after good work by Ramires before crossing for Kalou who kept his nerve to slide home and send the travelling fans into raptures. Chelsea will now look forward to the return leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday having won their first game away this year in the Champions League.
The result is Chelsea’s first away win in the competition since October 2010 and with the side full of confidence, you would be a brave person to bet against the West London club progressing to the Champions League semi-final.
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