Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Benfica boss slams mind game claims

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - MAY 14:(EDITORS NOTE: THIS IMAGE WAS CREATED WITH A FISH EYE LENS) Benfica players warm up during an SL Benfica training session ahead of the UEFA Europa League Final match against Chelsea at the Amsterdam Arena on May 14, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - MAY 14:Benfica players warm up during an SL Benfica training session ahead of the UEFA Europa League Final match against Chelsea at the Amsterdam Arena on May 14, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Head coach Jorge Jesus has denied that his Benfica team have resorted to dirty tricks to gain a psychological edge over Chelsea ahead of tonight's Europa League final at the Amsterdam ArenA.

The build-up to the game has been overshadowed slightly by comments from Benfica forward Pablo Aimar, who described the current Blues squad as the worst since Roman Abramovich bought the club 10 years ago.

The Argentine expressed his bemusement at the fact that neither John Terry nor Frank Lampard are now considered regular starters while he also claimed the Chelsea squad are not behind interim manager Rafael Benitez.

Jesus last night sought to play down the 33-year-old's comments.

"No Benfica player has undermined the quality of any Chelsea player or the Chelsea team.

"In my opinion the strongest team make the Europa League final. Chelsea is an excellent team and they will finish third in the Premier League this year. They have quality," he said.

Chelsea certainly have suffered a fall from grace in recent times.

Twelve months ago this weekend the west London club enjoyed the most glorious night in their 108-year history – a Champions League final win over Bayern Munich – but now their only chance of silverware is the often-derided Europa League.

Benfica's decline goes much further back, however. Long gone are the days when Eusebio ran rings around some of the best players on the planet in the 1960s.

The Lisbon-based club may have racked up 32 league titles, but their last European success came 51 years ago when their most famous player helped the team to a memorable 5-3 European Cup final win over Real Madrid – also in Amsterdam. They hope that the game being staged in the same city and the presence of Eusebio, who will be a guest of honour at the game, will prove good omens.

"For Eusebio to travel here and share such a moment with us is important for the team," Benfica captain Luisao said.

"Obviously we respect Eusebio, he is the king and it's very important that the players know about his importance and his legend, which is still important even today, and use it as a reference point."

Jesus has done his best to bring back the European glory days to Benfica since he took over in 2009.

The 58-year-old steered the team to the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2011 – a year before they were eliminated by Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

"Benfica is a club that throughout its history has had an excellent performance in Europe," said the Portuguese, who has won one league title and three cups since taking charge.

"It created a name for itself in the 1960s and 1970s that was there alongside Real Madrid and AC Milan.

"Benfica has recovered some of its prestige over the last few years."

Jesus, who will be coming up against former Benfica stars Ramires and David Luiz tonight, is looking for his side to bounce back from Saturday's damaging defeat to rivals Porto.

Porto struck in injury time to leapfrog Benfica into first place ahead of next weekend's final round of matches.

Benfica will be looking to avoid their seventh straight defeat in a European final.

Key battles in Amsterdam

David Luiz v Oscar Cardozo

Former Benfica player Luiz will have an important part to play at the heart of the Chelsea defence in the expected absence of captain John Terry. The Blues will look to him to be a danger from dead balls, but his first task will be keeping Cardozo quiet. The Paraguayan scored twice in the semi-final win against Fenerbahce and he will be fancied to net again in the final tonight.

Frank Lampard v Nicolas Gaitan

Lampard will enter the game on a high after becoming Chelsea's all-time record goalscorer at the weekend and he will be an obvious threat to Benfica. Argentine Gaitan is a similar type of player to Lampard, with his probing runs and goalscoring ability being of concern to opposing defences. This is where the game could be won and lost.

Fernando Torres v Luisao

Torres hasn't had much joy in domestic football of late, but he has been scoring goals in Europe and with Demba Ba cup-tied he'll lead the Chelsea attack again. He has scored in big finals before and despite his indifferent form over recent times can spark at any time. Brazilian centre-half Luisao is a man-mountain with pace to go with the power he packs into a 6ft 4 frame.

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