With Eden Hazard missing through injury and Victor Moses not fit to start, Chelsea began this one with Ramires on the right hand side and Oscar on the left. Frank Lampard and David Luiz took up the central midfield positions, with Juan Mata operating as the advanced midfielder.
Benfica left Pablo Aimar on the bench, but began with a very dangerous looking front three of Oscar Cardozo, Salvio and Nico Gaitan. At the back for them, the pacey, powerful pair of Luisao and Ezequiel Garay were tasked with dealing with Fernando Torres.
Early Portuguese Dominance
To say it took Chelsea a while to get going would be generous. They never really looked settled in their positions, which was probably down to too many players operating in relatively unfavoured positions. Unfortunately for Rafael Benitez, this was telling in the opening stages.
Ramires, in particular, looked lost in his right midfield berth. He was caught out constantly by the clever movement of Gaitan and failed to offer any kind of sustained cover to Cesar Azpilicueta.
David Luiz and Frank Lampard did not look at ease either. In the 4-2-3-1 system, the understanding between the two sitting midfielders is paramount to the rest of the team being able to function. But Luiz and Lampard never really looked on the same wavelength, with both having looked much more comfortable with a more defensively minded player next to them.
The duo were often too far apart and indisciplined in their defensive positioning. As a result, Benfica played around with them ease.
Nico Gaitan and Salvio got also had a lot of joy in wide areas. Attacking on the outside or inside, both looked a real threat as Chelsea struggled to maintain any shape. Gaitan in particular was continually floating into the space behind Luiz and in doing so, dragging Ramires into no mans land.
Benfica targeted Ramires, whereas Chelsea looked to exploit the space down their opponents left side:
This is turn opened up space down the left flank for the forward bursts of Melgarejo. It caused Chelsea no end of problems. It wasn’t for some poor finishing and a few timely slips, Benfica could have been out of sight.
Benitez, usually a very reactive tactician, initially did little to stem the waves of Benfica attacks. Chelsea were becoming desperate in their defending and giving away numerous free-kicks in dangerous areas.
Juan Mata was not really willing to drop in and help block the middle off. He played as more of a second striker, often taking up positions beyond Torres. Resultantly, Luiz and Lampard were continually outnumbered by Benfica’s central trio, who pressed quickly when Chelsea were in possession.