UCL stakes are high for Chelsea

April 3, 2012

Chelsea defends a narrow first-leg lead over Benfica in the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday knowing that winning the title for the first time may be its only chance of securing a place in next year's competition.

The Blues are five points behind a qualifying spot with only seven games left in England's Premier League, so players are well aware of the importance of not letting slip a 1-0 lead over the Portuguese side.

Chelsea has never failed to reach for the Champions League since Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the west London club in 2003, and the financial reward for playing in Europe's top club competition leads to an odd situation where repeated qualification is as sought after as the glory of actually winning it.

''We have to be aware that Benfica at home is still to get through,'' midfielder Frank Lampard said. ''Then we will potentially face Barcelona or AC Milan in the semifinal and then we have the final.


''To win them all to try to confirm our Champions League status for next year, it is a risky card, albeit one well within our means.''

Chelsea does still have a chance of qualifying via its Premier League position, but needs fellow Champions League regular Arsenal or Tottenham to stumble badly if it is to make the top four.

''We have to fight on both levels,'' Lampard told BBC Radio. ''Where we are now in the table, we're disappointed to not be fighting for first or second but you have to understand that you can't have it your own way every year.''

Chelsea warmed up with a 4-2 Premier League win at Aston Villa, with Spain striker Fernando Torres scoring his first league goal since September.

Torres is almost certain to start at Stamford Bridge, while Lampard may again be on the bench. Interim coach Roberto Di Matteo has concerns over the availability of David Luiz's ankle injury and Didier Drogba's foot problem.

Two-time European champion Benfica has only one fit central defender for its attempt to reach a first semifinal in 22 years. Injuries to Jardel, Garay and Miguel Victor have left Luisao without a partner.

Coach Jorge Jesus is expected to drop midfielder Javi Garcia into the back four and put Serbia international Nemanja Matic in a defensive midfield role.

Argentine playmaker Pablo Aimar returns to action after missing last weekend's 2-1 win over Portuguese title rival Braga through suspension.

Benfica lies second in the Portuguese championship, one point behind leader FC Porto with five rounds to play.