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Apr 2012

The second day of second legs of the quarterfinals of the Champions League Europe turned out similar to the first. You could say that yesterday also met the forecasts in that the two teams that had controlled their respective first legs eventually qualified. But as always there are nuances of difference. Because the outcome can be the same but the means can be very different, you have to analyse it objectively. Anyway, however much time and space is devoted to any analysis, what is clear is that it is now confirmed that Real Madrid will face Bayern Munich for a place in the final and Chelsea will be FC Barcelona’s opponent to get there. Now for the matches and the debate.

Chelsea 2 - Benfica 1

Few could have expected a game like yesterday’s at Stamford Bridge, especially after what we had seen in the first leg and, especially after what happened in the first few minutes of yesterday’s match in London. Let's take it step by step. Both teams started the match with a similar system, a 1-4-2-3-1 but in both, it was also clear that one of the two centre midfield players was higher than the other. Lampard for Chelsea and Witsel for Benfica, with Obi Mikel and Matic more defensive according to the situation.

Benfica began the match without any fear, without any complex and looked to get at Petr Cech's goal. They tried to play football and Aimar’s mobility between the lines, reminiscent of his best moments in Valencia, made it extremely difficult to mark him and he was constantly available for his team mates to look for him.

The first half saw with both teams dropping off quickly, but without much intensity in defence, until after 19 minutes there was a move that produced the penalty that would define the match. John Terry found Cole behind the Portuguese defence, because of poor defending by Maxi Pereira and Bruno Cesar, allowing the Chelsea full back to get into the area. Javi Garcia, a centre midfielder having to play as a centre back due to circumstances, gave away a penalty that ultimately was instrumental in the outcome of the match and the tie.

Lampard, despite the good attempt by Artur who guessed the right direction but could not stop it going in, put 1-0 on the scoreboard and it seemed at the time that the tie was heading towards a Chelsea win. However, Chelsea had not had control of the game. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Later, after 29 minutes, there was a central free kick for Benfica which they put in wide to the box, it was played back in to the middle and Cardozo headed it goalwards but Terry cleared it off the line.

Witsel was the most creative midfielder for the visitors and he tried to be involved in the build up supporting Pablito Aimar. They were reaching the box, but lacked precision in the final pass. Chelsea, meanwhile, were not moving the ball easily. When they tried to play out from the back, even light pressure from the two ​​Benfica forwards made Cech play long. They were more incisive on the left with Ramires and Kalou swapping positions at times during the first half. The truth is that the match was quite open, but in the 39th minute Maxi Pereira was sent off for a second yellow. At 1-0 down, with only ten players on the field, the challenge of turning the tie seemed like mission impossible for the Portuguese.

One final thing, the referee, Damir Skomina, showed 7 yellow cards in the first half and it was not a dirty game.

In the second half, Benfica came out with Witsel as a full back in a 1-4-3-1-1. It looked a good decision, because it maintained the attacking options and tried to maintain balance defensively at the same time. There was still fluency in attack and when Aimar got involved round the box you could sense danger. Aimar, Cardozo and Gaitán combined with each other for Cardozo to shoot and produce a Cech save. A little later, Aimar himself gave another warning on 48 minutes.

Meanwhile, Chelsea were taking advantage of the defensive frailties on the right, where Witsel was trying to control Kalou who latched on to his mistake to put in a ball that amazingly Ramires failed to convert and often took Witsel on to create a threat on that wing.

There were still chances for both teams, Cardozo tried to surprise Cech from a long way out, then first Mata and then Torres almost got the second goal for Chelsea, but Fernando did not have time to adjust his body to control his shot.

Benfica needed fresh legs if they wanted to change the scoreline and their coach, Jorge Jesus, brought on Oliveira for Cardozo first, then a bit later introduced Yannick Djalo for Gaitan and lastly Rodrigo for Bruno Cesar. With these changes, they began to create chances possibly because of the lack of defensive intensity that Chelsea were then showing.

When the London side found Mata between lines, it was their main threat. But Benfica felt they had a chance and continued to be dangerous.

Cahill came on for Terry and a bit later Meireles for Mata. However this didn’t solve the home team’s defensive problems and, after a chance which Cech put out for a corner, from the kick Javi Garcia was completely free to head in, which the goalkeeper did not anticipate.

With the score at 1-1, anxiety crept in on and off the pitch. After a chance for Oliveira in the 87th minute, Di Matteo substituted Torres for Drogba stopping the game and playing for time. But Benfica kept going. A couple of Capdevila crosses and the pressure was still on the Cech goal until a rebound was got to first by Meireles, with his foot a bit high against Aimar, and he mounted a counter attack which he himself finished with a great shot giving the goalkeeper no chance.

No time for any more, 2-1, through to the semis and relief for the Chelsea fans who were anxious in the last few minutes but in the end could sing about their win and look forward to an intense and interesting tie against FC Barcelona.

Real Madrid 5 - Apoel 2
As we said before, the forecasts for the second game were also realised yesterday. This time, the favourite for the game, Real Madrid easily went through, as predicted against a modest Apoel who have had a great season in the Champions League which will go down in their history.

Both teams started with a 1-4-2-3-1, although the Madrid side were camped in the Apoel half. It was an excellent chance to give some players time on the pitch as they come to the end of the season and Varane at centre back or Sahin and Granero in midfield as well as Altintop on the right will benefit greatly from their selection.

The Santiago Bernabeu team, as is becoming the way, mostly attacked on the left due to the quality and combination play of Marcelo and Ronaldo, although on occasions Kaka also joined in on the left and they were a constant threat for the Spanish-Belgian goalkeeper, Urko Pardo.

As for Apoel, they got numbers behind the ball and worked hard in defence but without much of a counter attack, stopping the home side attacks but with more intensity than success in the opening stages.

Sahin made himself available and Granero, a bit higher, linked with him and Kaka to give continuity to the play with short passing. But both he and Granero have the ability to switch play long and find strikers or wide players unmarked.

Apoel hardly dared to come out, just a couple of weak counter attacks without the necessary belief to cause a problem for the Madrid defence.

On 25 minutes, the first goal came for Cristiano Ronaldo and for the match. And it was similar to what has been happening all season. Ronaldo comes inside and Marcelo overlaps to give width and crosses for the Portuguese player to latch on to in the box and put it in the back of the net from close range.

Yesterday’s game was not high tempo because Madrid didn’t need it, the whites having most of the possession (79%), and you can appreciate the different options they have, with midfield players that can play short or long, with strikers who can get free and penetrate whatever happens and width or central play if needed. Moreover, they have finishers who can score at any time. Ultimately, the squad has many different options that have made the team stronger in ability and variety.

On 36 minutes it was 2-0, a great Kaka goal with a shot from outside the box. The match became even more comfortable for Real Madrid than it was already and had been before the start.

In the second half, Marcelo came off and Callejon came on to play wide on the right, moving Altintop to left back.

The game was being played out in the Apoel half and Mourinho took the chance to give Di Maria a run out, coming on for Higuain on 54 minutes, with Ronaldo going to central striker and Callejon on the left. On 74 minutes Albiol came on for Granero, playing in centre midfield alongside Sahin. On 76 minutes, a good move in midfield by Apoel finished with a wall pass behind the Madrid defence and Manduca, surprisingly, scored the first goal for his team.

Apoel were encouraged to move up the pitch and create a threat to make the game more exciting but Madrid’s third goal came immediately after through Ronaldo who scored from a free kick from the left.

Callejon got the fourth for Madrid in the 79th minute from a cross shot and straight after, Altintop gave away a penalti by tripping Adorno and Solari put it away coolly making it 4-2.

Shortly after, Di Maria finished the scoring with another good goal, putting the ball over the keeper who was a bit too far out.

A good performance by Real Madrid, superior from start to finish, and they look forward to an interesting clash with Bayern who also appear to be in form.