John Terry remains a rock for Chelsea, Roberto Di Matteo's boldness pays off and forgotten men shine in an impressive performance against Benfica
That sounds like a statement of the obvious, but the solidity offered up for long periods here contrasted markedly with the confused mess that had left Chelsea so forlorn in Naples. Terry had been absent there, still recovering from the minor knee surgery after he had suffered bruising on the joint in the FA Cup third round victory over Portsmouth, and how he had been missed. There will be aches and pains accompanying the captain's run-in to this campaign, whether from his knee or the calf niggle that forced him from the field in the return fixture against the Italian side, but Di Matteo must maintain his presence as much as he can. The centre-half was all bellowed instruction and timely interventions here, strong and uncompromising in the tackle as ever.
Gary Cahill may have impressed recently, but it is Terry who remains key.
André Villas-Boas had set the tone with some eye-catching selections for away games in the Champions League, and Roberto di Matteo, right, merely maintained it here. There were perhaps fewer political overtones to his line-up against Benfica. At Napoli when Villas-Boas, his tenure on the brink, had omitted Michael Essien, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard in the previous round, it had been considered a suicide note. Baffled players had made their frustrations clear. Club executives noted the mood as much as the defeat. The interim first-team coach's decision to start with Essien, Lampard and Didier Drogba on the bench here was more a reflection of weekend toils against Tottenham Hotspur, when all three had appeared jaded. Somehow it felt more acceptable, and eminently understandable. When Salomon Kalou prodded the visitors ahead with the game entering the final stages, it felt utterly inspired.
Of those picked, the decision to include Paulo Ferreira had prompted most raised eyebrows. It would be easy to wonder sometimes whether the 33-year-old was still at Chelsea, so under-used has he become in recent seasons. This was only his third start of the campaign, and his first appearance of any kind since the 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa on New Year's Eve. Yet he flung himself in with vigour, eagerly confronting Bruno César after setting his stall out early on with a fine interception, and even causing the Brazilian problems when he ventured forward. His selection was actually more a reflection of a lack of faith in José Bosingwa, who had rather scowled through the warm-up occasionally exchanging passes with one of the fitness coaches when he was not chatting with Benfica players. His introduction was belated, Ferreira having excelled on his unexpected return.
The Argentine winger is expected to be the next player to depart the Estádio da Luz at vast expense, a transfer to the Premier League having been mooted. Manchester City have been mentioned, and United too though the message delivered from the champions is that no interest exists. At times last night, it felt hard to justify the hype, his performance peripheral – even for a winger– and anything but threatening, with him even veering in-field in eager search of possession. Then, out of such mediocrity, he conjured a delicious cross midway through the second period for Jardel, lurking unnoticed at the far post, to nod goalwards and force Petr Cech into a fine save. That served notice of his quality. At Stamford Bridge next week, Benfica will have to see more of it.
David Luiz and Ramires had been applauded generously here when the teams were announced before kick-off, with each Brazilian tearing into former team-mates with glee. Ramires, who only spent a season here but is arguably Chelsea's player of the season, embarrassed Emerson at times with his pace, rampaging down the flank to the by-line and playing his part in liberating the slippery Fernando Torres for Kalou's goal. Luiz, who had arrived here as a wide-eyed teenager from Brazil and departed a £23.5m international centre-back, was just as forceful in his buccaneering charges up-field, but also beautifully positioned to block Oscar Cardozo's second-half shot on the line. This felt a fine return.