Europe ambition on the line

Fifth in the Premier League,a loss to Benfica will add to Chelsea’s Champions League woes

Written by Associated Press | London | Published: April 4, 2012 1:14:04 am

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.

“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’s a risky card,albeit one well within our means.”

Chelsea does still have a chance of qualifying via Premier League 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 for Wednesday’s game with a 4-2 win at Aston Villa,Spain striker Fernando Torres scoring his first league goal since September. Torres is almost certain to start against Benfica,while Lampard may again be on the bench. Interim coach Roberto Di Matteo has concerns over the availability of David Luiz,following an ankle injury,and Didier Drogba over a foot problem.

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 back four and put 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.

Madrid strikers in form

Real Madrid should reach its second straight semifinals under coach Jose Mourinho barring a catastrophic collapse against Cypriot team APOEL Nicosia. Madrid cruised to a 3-0 win away in the first leg. Its attack has been on display in its last three straight wins,with Cristiano Ronaldo taking his season tally to 47 goals,including a pair in 5-1 rout at Osasuna.

Karim Benzema is enjoying his best season since joining in 2009,scoring 27 in all competitions. Madrid has already crossed the 100-goal mark and are on course to smashing its own 22-year-old record of most goals in a season.

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