Chelsea go into the Europa League final (7.45pm, Wednesday, live on ITV) at the Amsterdam Arena as slight favourites against a Benfica side still reeling after all but conceding the Portuguese title to Porto this past weekend.
The Blues are the reigning champions of Europe, having won the 2012 Champions League under Roberto Di Matteo, but after an early end to their defence now find themselves in a position to win the secondary European competition just a year later.
Chelsea have three European trophies to their credit, having twice won the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup in addition to their Champions League success, while interim coach Rafael Benitez (pictured) also has a couple of continental titles to his name, including a triumph in the UEFA Cup, the forerunner to the Europa League, with Valencia in 2004.
It would be fair to say that Benitez is not the most popular figure in the eyes of the Stamford Bridge faithful, but the former Liverpool manager has done what was expected of him since taking over from Di Matteo in late November. A top four finish has been secured and an opportunity to add a further European trophy to the cabinet also beckons.
Domestically, Benitez has performed slightly worse than Di Matteo on points gained and goals scored per match, but Chelsea have conceded marginally fewer goals and he has done a competent job of balancing the demands of a European campaign with the club’s domestic commitments.
Chelsea come into the final on the back of eight matches without defeat, a run during which they have scored two or more goals in all but one match (a 1-0 win away to Manchester United). It is form that has cemented their place as favourites with the bookies in the Europa League betting odds. Their place in the final was secured by a 5-2 aggregate victory over Belgian side Basel, which followed defeats of Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucherest and Rubin Kazan.
Eden Hazard and John Terry picked up injuries during Chelsea’s 2-1 win away to Aston Villa on Saturday and are both doubtful for this final. Victor Moses, who has scored four times during the club’s Europa League campaign, and Branislav Ivanovic are the most likely deputies.
Like Chelsea, Benfica dropped down into the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group, but they have endured a tougher route to the final, overcoming Bayer Leverkusen, Bordeaux, Newcastle United and Fenerbache on route to Amsterdam.
The Eagles squad come into the final in poor spirits following a crushing defeat to Porto on Saturday. An injury time winner from Kelvin saw their opponents leapfrog Benfica into first place in the standings with just one round of matches left to play.
They will have to pick themselves up quickly if they are to secure the club’s first European trophy in more than 50 years. Benfica won the European Cups of 1961 and 1962, but have lost in each of their last six European finals – five times in the European Cup and once in the UEFA Cup.
The club have performed superbly in the Europa League, losing just once in eight matches, and in Oscar Cardozo have a striker capable of causing problems for the Chelsea defence. The Paraguayan international has scored 30 times in all competitions this season, including six goals in eight Europa League appearances.
Benfica have a young, energetic midfield, with the Argentines Enzo Perez and Nico Gaitan often lining up alongside the much-coveted Serbian Nemanja Matic. They are also strong in defence, where Ezequiel Garay – who has been heavily linked with Manchester United – and Luisao form one of the most solid partnerships in European football.
Jorge Jesus’ side will miss the forceful forward running of right-back Maxi Pereira, who is suspended for the final after picking up a yellow card in each of the two legs of their semi-final victory over Fenerbache, while Gaitan limped out of the Porto defeat and is an injury doubt.
Chelsea v Benfica Betting Tips Verdict
These two sides met in the quarter finals of last season’s Champions League, with Chelsea emerging victorious, 3-1 on aggregate. Both matches were tightly contested affairs, and Benfica could well have progressed had they taken better advantage of some very presentable chances.
Benfica have been the more impressive of the two sides since they both dropped down into the Europa League. They have made their way past tougher opposition whilst scoring a comparable number of goals to Chelsea and conceding less than a goal per match on average.
- The bookmakers have Chelsea as the favourites, but Benfica are capable of at least taking the match to extra time, and we therefore suggest backing Benfica +0.5 on an Asian Handicap @ best odds of 8/13 with BetVictor.
- Matches involving these two teams in the competition thus far have averaged 2.81 goals, but finals are often cagey affairs (four of the last five Europa League finals have seen two or less goals in the regular 90 minutes) and we therefore suggest backing under 2.5 goals @ 4/5 with Ladbrokes or Stan James.