Didier Drogba video nasty will come back to haunt Chelsea, says Benfica’s Jorge Jesus
A VIDEO, first aired on Chelsea TV and apparently showings Didier Drogba shaking with fake fear when he is told that Chelsea had drawn Benfica in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, has upped the temperature for tonight’s clash.
Drogba’s representatives — and, on Monday night, his team-mate David Luiz — were at pains to distance his reaction from any accusation of lacking respect for this evening’s opponents but, suffice to say, Benfica feel similarly pleased to be facing Chelsea.
“Who knows what he was thinking? He might just have been joking, we don’t know,” said Benfica coach Jorge Jesus. “But Portuguese clubs have eliminated both Manchester United and Manchester City, the top two teams in the Premier League, so that should act as an indication of the strengths of Portuguese football. Any response to Didier Drogba we’ll give out on the field tomorrow.”
Indeed, at Benfica they say that if they could not draw Apoel Nicosia or Marseille at this stage of the Champions League then Chelsea will do.
Certainly, and with a sell-out crowd of 65,000 expected at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday evening, there is no fear of the Premier League club as there may have been not so long ago.
Having topped a group that included United — who they drew with home and away — the Portuguese feel equipped to deal with what Chelsea can throw at them, especially in the second leg and despite the astonishing 4-1 reversal suffered at Stamford Bridge by Napoli in the previous round. At home, Benfica are unbeaten in 10 European ties.
Benfica are organised and although they will probably be missing their best defender, the Argentine Ezequiel Garay, who was signed to replace David Luiz, they are difficult to break down.
Jesus is in his third season in charge and having, over two decades, worked his way through the Portuguese lower leagues, and clubs such as Amora, Felgueiras and Estrela da Amadora, his reputation has grown this campaign.
Benfica have closed the gap on Porto, who ran away with the Portuguese league by 20 points under Andre Villas-Boas last season, and have several players who will catch the eye.
There has been much talk of another Argentine, Nicolas Gaitan, who it appears Benfica are hoping to cash in on this summer. A very dangerous player on the ball, left-footed and coming off the right wing or behind the main striker, Gaitan likes to dribble but is often accused of being lazy. He is not a crowd favourite in the way that the Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel has become.
Then there is Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia and forward Rodrigo while Uruguayan Maxi Pereira has also impressed in what is a highly international squad which also includes Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo and veteran Argentine playmaker Pablo Aimar.
Indeed in the two group games against United only one Portuguese player, Ruben Amorim, started, and then only in the home game, although there are high hopes for Nelson Oliveira, who has just broken into the first team and won his first senior cap for Portugal and may well make the Euro 2012 squad.
Benfica have poured a lot into this Champions League campaign and will be extremely motivated on Tuesday evening. There is a feeling of optimism; Chelsea are deemed eminently beatable while there is also a sense of excitement about the return of former players Ramires and, in particular, Luiz, who was hugely popular at the club. Chelsea paid more than £40 million for the pair.
Luiz owes much to Jesus for launching his career. He was on the substitutes’ bench until the 57 year-old arrived as coach while the Portuguese also helped Fabio Coentrao and Angel Di Maria, neither of whom was first choice, earn huge moves to Real Madrid.
As usual with a club such as Benfica, mired in debt and with many of their players’ registrations part-owned by third parties, there is always the strong likelihood that their best players could leave in the summer. Defeating Chelsea would enhance their prospects.
Had Villas-Boas still been at Chelsea, there would have been an added dimension. His relationship with Jesus was, at times, abrasive but the Benfica coach was not to be drawn on Villas-Boas’s demise.
“A change of coach doesn’t change the quality of players at their club,” he said. “So it won’t make any difference at all I don’t see many differences between Villas-Boas’s Chelsea and Roberto Di Matteo’s.” It didn’t sound like a compliment.