Chelsea on course for Champions League semi-finals as Salomon Kalou strike stuns Benfica in Lisbon
Benfica 0-1 Chelsea
This was one of the great days for Chelsea, an afternoon in the sunshine for their fans followed by an evening basking in the glow of a terrific team performance capped by Salomon Kalou’s goal. The blue flag flew high and proud over Eastadio do Luz.
This was a particularly good day for Roberto Di Matteo, the interim head coach who keeps steering Chelsea onward in cup competitions as headlines keep linking more vaunted names to the manager’s job. Whatever happens to Di Matteo this summer, he will always have Lisbon.
His players responded to the Italian’s game-plan, delivering a classic away performance, tactically disciplined, defensively resilient and scoring with a swift counter-attack. Chelsea got what they came for: an away goal and a clean sheet. Difficult mission, adroitly accomplished.
Di Matteo had called on his players to stay calm, to not risk losing possession. Even when Pablo Aimar, the deft Argentine string-puller, tried to whip up a storm, Chelsea refused to be cowed. Even when Nicolas Gaitan began running at them, Chelsea refused to park the bus, simply taking the sting out of the game with bouts of keep-ball but also sliding forward, looking for openings, keeping Benfica on their toes, triggering more songs up in the Gods.
Good managers influence a game’s flow and Di Matteo also got his substitutions right, in timing and selections, disrupting Benfica’s attempts to regain momentum. While some around him were losing their heads, including the goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon who was sent off, Di Matteo retained composure, exuding a quiet control his players matched.
Before kick-off, Di Matteo’s team-sheet had raised questions but 90 minutes later he had received emphatic vindication of his decisions.