Who: Chelsea FC vs. SL Benfica
What: UEFA Europa League final
Where: Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam, Netherlands
When: Wednesday, May, 15, 2013
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast
Time: 20:45 GMT/2:45 p.m. ET/11:45 a.m. PT
Television: Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Soccer 2Go, ESPN Deportes (US), ITV 1, UTV (UK)
Worldwide Live Streams and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
Referee: Björn Kuipers (Netherlands)
Europa League website: Link
3-Way Odds: Chelsea +135, Benfica +200, Draw +230
Total: Over 2½ Even, Under 2½ -130
Decimal Odds: Chelsea 2.35, Benfica 3.00, Draw 3.30
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 2.00, Under 2½ 1.77
Fractional Odds: Chelsea 27/20, Benfica 2/1, Draw 23/10
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 1/1, Under 2½ 10/13
Alternate Odds: Chelsea Pick -150, Benfica Pick +115
Odds To Win Outright: Chelsea -155, Benfica +120
Source: Bovada (Kahnawake, Canada)
Six trophy attempts this season, six failures. So will the seventh time finally be the charm for Chelsea when it faces Benfica in the UEFA Europa League final on Wednesday in Amsterdam?
After winning the biggest trophy in the club's existence 51 weeks ago in the UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich, the Blues have failed to snag any silverware in attempts this season in the Community Shield, the Super Cup, the Capital One Cup, the Champions League, the Club World Cup and the FA Cup.
And now we're here.
Chelsea will attempt to become the first club to win UEFA's two biggest trophies in reverse order and try to possess them both for 10 days when it meets Benfica for all the marbles in the Amsterdam ArenA, but it won't be easy. And nothing ever is for the current European champions.
The Blues head into the contest a little hamstrung with John Obi Mikel out, Demba Ba cup-tied and both Eden Hazard (hamstring) and John Terry (ankle) hurt after sustaining injuries in Saturday's 2-1 crucial win over Aston Villa at Villa Park.
According to the Daily Mail, the Blues and interim manager Rafael Benitez are keeping the status of the two players mum heading into the clash, but from where I'm sitting, it's very unlikely the two will play. This is where the depth of the Chelsea roster should help.
With David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic rested for this clash, the 52-year-old Spaniard can still use Cesar Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole in his back four, employ Luiz and Frank Lampard in his defensive midfield and use Juan Mata, Oscar and either Victor Moses or Ramires in his attacking midfield.
So all is not lost.
Benfica (23-5-1)—which suffered its first loss of the Portuguese Liga season on Saturday (2-1) to heated rival Porto—has gone over 50 years without winning a European trophy, but with skilled players like Lima (18 league goals), Oscar Cardozo (16), Eduardo Salvio (10) Rodrigo (7) and Maxi Pereira, the Eagles actually possess more scoring firepower on their roster now than the Blues do.
But can Benfica—tabbed by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2000 as the world's most widely supported club—find a way to score on Blues goalkeeper Petr Cech and crack the code of the stingy Chelsea defense?
I honestly think it can.
The Eagles—who will be making their second Europa League final appearance here—needed a nice second-half comeback at home in their second leg against Fenerbahce to get to this point in the tournament's semi-finals and advanced 3-2 on aggregate.
Benfica manager Jorge Jesus may not be able to walk on water, but with a big talented goalkeeper like Artur Moraes (6'4"), Lima and Paraguyan sensation Cardozo—who scored twice in the second leg against Fenerbahce—have more than enough to challenge Chelsea and bring the trophy back home to Lisbon.
The Eagles are also a very deep squad chock-full of Argentinian players and with Nicolas Gaitan, Ezequiel Garay, Luisao, Enzo Perez, Andre Almeida and Nemanja Matic are definitely one of the top 15 clubs in Europe in my opinion although they are currently ranked No. 8 in the latest UEFA rankings with Chelsea checking in at No. 4.
The Blues' road to this final wasn't exactly hard with wins over Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharest, FK Rubin Kazan and FC Basel 1893, and this Europa League final will be the club's third appearance in a major European final in the last six years.
Luckily for Chelsea, their only striker available for the game, Fernando Torres has been pretty solid in this tournament and leads the West London side with five goals in it despite his seemingly constant struggle to score in the English Premier League.
For the Blues, it will very important to try to win the possession battle here, which means whomever starts in the attacking midfield will have to be at their very best against a club which has allowed just 19 goals in league play. If the Eagles can effectively contain Mata, it could be a very long day for Chelsea.
In the last two big games the Blues have played in UEFA competitions—against Barcelona at Camp Nou in the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals and Bayern at Allianz Arena in the finals last year—I predicted Chelsea to lose, so I am sticking with my newfound reverse-jinx approach in hopes of another wrong pick.
Betting-wise, this is just too tough a call from both a side and a total standpoint, so best to use that hard-earned money on food and beverages. And use your energy for yelling at the television in Benitez's penultimate game, unless you're one of the fans fortunate enough to have a ticket and are attending the game in the Netherlands capital.
Prediction: Benfica 2, Chelsea 1
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