Much has been made of Chelsea's attacking armoury ahead of Wednesday night's Europa League final, but what of Benfica's qualities? Daniel Storey dissects the challenges Chelsea need to overcome if they are to triumph in Amsterdam
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Last Updated: 15/05/13 8:24am
With 90 minutes played of their title decider against Porto last weekend, Benfica's league season had been nothing short of remarkable. They were without defeat, scoring 74 goals during a campaign that saw them build up a 21-point lead over third-placed Pacos Ferreira.
However, the stoppage-time goal from Porto's 19-year-old striker Kelvin changed all of that. It brought coach Jorge Jesus to his knees and saw the title slip from the Aguias' grip.
With Benfica now forced to rely on their title rivals to slip up, their eggs now firmly sit in a Europa League basket. Whilst Chelsea, with a top-four place now secured, would have hoped for Benfica to be fighting on multiple fronts, their Portuguese opponents will now be more motivated still to secure Benfica's first European trophy in over 50 years.
Europe's most under-rated striker?
One of the most surprising elements of Benfica's defeat to Porto was that striker Oscar Cardozo was left on the bench. Whether or not this was tactical or due to concerns over the Paraguayan's fitness is unclear, but the forward will surely have added motivation to impress on Wednesday night.
There is an argument for labelling Cardozo as Europe's most under-rated striker. Since his move from Newell's Old Boys in 2007, Cardozo has scored 159 goals in 255 games, one of the best goal-to-game ratios in European football over that period. He also has six goals in this season's Europa League, more than any Chelsea player has managed.
Left-footed and possessing an impressively powerful shot, Cardozo is also incredibly dangerous from set-pieces. He scored twice against Fenerbahce in the semi-final second leg to ensure Benfica's safe passage to the final.
The one that got away
Now 24, Nemanja Matic was brought to Stamford Bridge from Slovakia by Carlo Ancelotti in August 2009, but made only two Premier League substitute appearances as Chelsea won the title. After spending a year on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, the Serbian was included as a makeweight in the deal that saw David Luiz move from the Estadio da Luz.
Matic has flourished in Portugal, establishing himself as a first-team regular after the departure of Javi Garcia to Manchester City. His reputation at Benfica was emphasised by the new contract immediately awarded to him after scoring a wonderful volley against Porto in January. It contains a minimum release clause of €45million.
There were even rumours of Manchester United interest last month in a player that has an impressive ability to keep the ball under significant pressure, playing simple passes but maintaining the ability to drive forward in attack.
Whilst Benfica rightly have a reputation as one of Europe's most attractive teams to watch, there is no doubting the solid foundation on which such eye-catching attacks are grounded.
One of the club's best pieces of business over the last few years was the signing of Ezequiel Garay in 2011. After struggling for first-team football at Real Madrid during his three years at the Bernabeu, Benfica were able to capture the Argentina international for around £5million.
Garay's partnership with Brazilian Luisao has been remarkably effective, and Benfica have conceded just 17 goals this season. Both men stand at 6'4", but combine a huge aerial presence with the composure to play the ball into midfield, a perfect combination for Benfica's entertaining style.
After struggling for form earlier this season, Nicolas Gaitan has returned to his best, and is one of the brightest jewels in Benfica's crown. Signed in 2010 as a replacement for the departing Angel Di Maria to Real Madrid, the Argentinian has been utilised predominantly as a left winger, although he is comfortable on either flank, and regularly switches wings mid-game.
Perennially linked with a move to Manchester United, Gaitan has a £38m release fee. Still just 25, the winger scored Benfica's opener in the semi-final second leg.
Gaitan is also more than aware of what the final means to both himself and Benfica.
"You dream about this as a child. I have been watching [this competition] since I was a child, and now it is a reality," Gaitan told UEFA.com.
"It has been a long time since Benfica reached a European final.
"Now we have a chance to achieve that as well. So in terms of history, the time is now."