Chelsea’s priorities make a Benfica failure bearable

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Chelsea must concentrate on more realistic targets and not be too worried if they do not make it through tonight – they’re unlikely to be going much further.


Reigning European champions Barcelona did what was expected of them last night and saw off a spirited, yet indisciplined, AC Milan side to progress to the semi-finals.


With a 1-0 lead from the first leg in Lisbon, the Stamford Bridge side are looking a good bet to join the Catalan club in the next stage.


Roberto di Matteo has cautioned his team against complacency and that is the correct thing to do but the Blues have won all four of their home Champions League side this season, conceding just a solitary goal.


The other side of that stat is that Benfica have scored in every one of their away games in this year’s competition, so progression is unlikely to be straightforward.


Whether it is or not, it is hard to see this Chelsea side troubling Barcelona in the semi-finals when the La Liga side are looking so imperious.


In fact, it is hard to see any side stopping Pep Guardiola’s from retaining the title they won last year at Wembley against Manchester United.


It is this reason that Chelsea must do all they can to preserve their chances in other competitions, as giving your all to beat Barcelona will be incredibly draining and most probably futile.


This is by no means saying the west Londoners should not give it a good go, it is a Champions League semi-final and anything other than full commitment would be extremely surprising.


However, Di Matteo must see getting back into the competition next year as the club’s number one priority and protection of injured players would be better directed towards their remaining Premier League fixtures, what with qualification through being Champions being an awfully slim hope.


The Chelsea we have seen this season is a team stalled in the midst of transition and they are desperately trying to get to the summer having salvaged something out of the highly unfavourable situation they faced a few weeks ago.


The possibility of an FA Cup win would be a sweet bonus to savour and it is probably the competition most likely to serve up some much needed feel good factor to ease some of the gloom that had been creeping around Stamford Bridge mid-season.


There is no shame in accepting your limitations and, while they have rallied admirably in recent weeks, Chelsea’s are there for all to see and there is no better side than Barcelona to exploit them.

If they get through tonight it will mean going out to Barcelona for the first leg just three days after the late kick-off FA Cup semi-final with Tottenham, which is a huge game in itself.


The Spurs tie is at Wembley, which means the build up and sense of occasion become heightened – tiring enough without the fact that it kicks off at an unusually late hour of 6pm.


This is followed another three days later by a crucial trip to Emirates Stadium to take on Arsenal, one of Chelsea’s direct rivals for the final Champion’s League spot behind the two Manchester clubs.


It could be a decisive nine days in the Blues’ season and it will be difficult to accept but the possible fixture at the Nou Camp must come after the other two.


Prioritising it in any way will adversely affect their chances of an FA Cup final or seriously damage their league position and qualification for next year’s premier European club competition.


There is an argument which says winning breeds a confidence that can overcome fatigue and how important momentum is to a side, but the fact that the Blues’ key players have been dogged by injury and poor form all year means the chances of overcoming Barcelona in two-legs are little more than slim.


It will be a hard blow if Chelsea were to depart the competition tonight, but it would relieve them of an excruciatingly difficult choice in a week where failure could see their season evaporate into a cloud of disappointment and failure.


It would be a lingering cloud too and the repercussions could be felt well into next season in terms of income and possible recruitments.


It may be a bitter pill to swallow but Chelsea fans should take some comfort from the fact that their club will have to face the possibility of being stretched to breaking point.

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Premier League
UEFA Champions League
Roberto Di Matteo

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