LISBON, Portugal, March 26 – Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo is looking to his Benfica old boys as the Blues attempt to edge closer to the Champions League semi-finals against the Portuguese giants here Tuesday.
Di Matteo’s side head into their quarter-final at the Stadium of Light hoping to exploit the inside knowledge of defender David Luiz and midfielder Ramires, who both played at Benfica before joining Chelsea.
“They are looking forward to going back and it can help. They know the atmosphere and the team,” Di Matteo said.
“I remember having that same situation when I played against Lazio. You can give a lot of information to your team-mates.
“I’m well-documented about Benfica myself. I’ve seen them many, many times and I have a lot of information.”
However Di Matteo was coy when asked if he had sought out the views of axed Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas. “I’d like to keep that private and confidential,” Di Matteo said.
Chelsea’s bid to secure qualification for next season’s Champions League suffered a setback on Saturday when they could only manage a draw against Tottenham, a result which leaves them five points adrift of the top four.
With either Barcelona or AC Milan awaiting them in the semi-finals should they advance past Benfica, few are expecting Chelsea to qualify for the 2012-2013 Champions League by winning this year’s edition.
The stakes for Chelsea could not be higher.
It is estimated that failure to reach the Champions League next year would create a £37 million (44.2 million euros/58.7 million dollars) hole in the club’s finances, leaving the Blues struggling to meet the criteria set down by UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, which will be introduced in 2013 based on clubs’ accounts from the current season and next season.
Nevertheless, Di Matteo insists his players like nothing better than proving their critics wrong, as evidenced in their remarkable 4-1 second leg victory against Napoli earlier this month which saw them overturn a two-goal deficit to storm into the last eight.
“We are trying very hard to prove everybody wrong that wrote us off,” said Di Matteo, who is expected to rely on Chelsea’s veterans once more on Tuesday.
“The experience factor does help you. If you are used to playing certain games over the year, it helps.”
Di Matteo is adamant however that Chelsea cannot afford to concede a two-goal lead in Tuesday’s first leg.
“Ideally, you want to get an away goal and you don’t want to have a mountain to climb like we did previously,” he said.
Di Matteo is also encouraged by Chelsea’s improved recent defensive record, which he believes augurs well.
“I think we’ll be good at Benfica. We’ve changed our set-up a little bit and our defensive mentality and I think we’ll be okay,” he said.
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus is confident his side have the firepower to trouble Chelsea’s defence, with Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo and Argentinian veteran Pablo Aimar the danger men.
Jesus, whose team beat Zenit St Petersburg to reach the last eight, said he had hoped for Chelsea when the draw for the quarter-finals was made, pointing out that the Portuguese had already helped eliminate Manchester United in the group stage earlier this season.
“We have shown we can cope well with English football, having knocked out Manchester United, and there are four players I know very well at Chelsea, players who helped make me a better coach,” Jesus said, referring to Luiz, Ramires and Chelsea reserves Paulo Ferreira and goalkeeper Hilario.