Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Chelsea will be special for as long as Roman Abramovich stays

My View - Steven Beacom

Owner Roman Abramovich, pictured, appointed Rafael Benitez as interim manager in November
Owner Roman Abramovich
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 02:  Rafael Benitez the Chelsea interim manager looks on during UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Chelsea and FC Basel 1893 at Stamford Bridge on May 2, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 02: Rafael Benitez the Chelsea interim manager
Defender of Portugal's SL Benfica, Luisao is seen during a training session in Donetsk, 729 kms. (452 miles) east of Ukrainian capital Kiev, Monday, Dec. 3, 2007. SL Benfica will face against Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk, in their UEFA Champions League soccer match, in Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007
Luisao

Even by increasingly crazy Chelsea standards, this season has surely been the most turbulent, bizarre and bewildering of recent times at Stamford Bridge.

There was the sacking of crowd favourite Roberto Di Matteo, who had guided the Blues to a stunning Champions League success just a few months before.

That was followed by the stunning appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez as interim boss leading to infuriated Chelsea supporters constantly booing and jeering the bloke in charge of their team. And now the biggest idol of them all to Blues fans, Jose Mourinho, is on his way back after being dumped a few years ago.

Throw in controversy surrounding John Terry, referee Mark Clattenburg being wrongly accused of racist abuse by Chelsea players, Eden Hazard kicking a ball-boy and the uncertain future of Frank Lampard, and, yes, it's been another highly eventful campaign down the King's Road.

Yet for all that, it could end on a high in Amsterdam tonight with the Blues winning the Europa League and creating history in the process.

Victory over Benfica this evening will see Chelsea, on the back of last year's Champions League triumph, become the first team to hold both European titles at the same time (well, for 11 days anyway until Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund are dancing around Wembley with the European Cup).

Love them or loathe them, and more than any other English team bar perhaps Manchester United Chelsea tend to generate those emotions, you can't knock them for their astounding ability to collect silverware.

There is a sense that it really doesn't matter who the manager is at the Bridge, as long as Roman Abramovich remains the owner he will continue to splash the cash, recruit high class players and the trophies will keep on coming.

Chelsea fans may beg to differ on this one but the Russian is the true 'Special One' at the west London club.

Benitez, despite leaving Mourinho with Champions League football for next season, and potentially adding to the trophy haul tonight will always be the 'hated one'.

Not that he's bothered. Rafa will get another job.

Benfica will enter the final with that wounded animal approach which can be dangerous – they lost 2-1 to Primeira Liga title rivals Porto at the weekend – but Chelsea's experience and ability should see them through.

Domestically Fernando Torres has been found wanting again in front of goal, but in the Europa League he's been on fire.

Along with the gifted Juan Mata and Brazilian Oscar, Torres will be a key figure in the Amsterdam ArenA tonight.

Then there's Lampard, for me Chelsea's greatest ever player and now record scorer.

What price another goal for him?

Another question is will John Terry, as he did last year with the Champions League when he didn't play, lift the trophy alongside Christine Bleakley's other half?

Surely, the departing Benitez should do the honours.

That would be a fitting way to end this surreal season for Chelsea. The fans might even cheer him. Then again, probably not!

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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