Di Matteo eyes strategy to beat Barcelona
Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo was pleased by Chelsea's progress to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, despite his side failing to sparkle against Benfica tonight.
The Blues boasted a 1-0 lead heading into the quarter-final, second leg at Stamford Bridge and looked to be cruising through after Frank Lampard's first-half penalty was followed up by Maxi Pereira's 40th-minute dismissal for two bookable offences.
However, Benfica attacked after the break and forced a nervy ending when Javi Garcia nodded home five minutes from time. Raul Meireles netted in stoppage time to settle proceedings and set up a semi-final encounter with reigning champions Barcelona, much to Di Matteo's delight.
"As I said yesterday in the press conference, we expected a difficult game, a hard game, and that proved to be it exactly," he said. "We probably made it a little bit more difficult for ourselves by not scoring a second goal, especially in that second half with all those chances. That kept them alive and [gave them] hope that they would score a goal and still be in it.
"They moved the ball around very nicely. We didn't quite keep possession enough as we'd have liked to with the extra man. I think the team wasn't as sparkling as we were hoping it would be. Maybe they were a bit tired, but we're pleased to have won the game and gone through. We deserved it over the two legs."
Chelsea will now welcome Pep Guardiola's side to Stamford Bridge in two weeks time for the first leg of their final-four encounter. Barcelona are favourites to come through the semi-final clash and go onto win the tournament, although Di Matteo has backed his side to cause them problems.
"It will be exciting to play two games against probably one of the best teams in the world," the Italian said. "We will find a strategy that will suit our players and our team to face Barcelona.
"I think it will be a combination [of playing to our strengths and attempting to cancel out their players]. They obviously have some individual players that are a big threat and very dangerous, but we also have to play our game and play to our strengths."
One blot on Chelsea's evening was an injury to captain John Terry. The 31-year-old looked superb in central defence but had to be replaced in the 59th minute by Gary Cahill. "He got a knock on his rib and that's why we had to take him off," Di Matteo said. "We'll assess him tomorrow and see how he is. We hope that he is going to be okay."
While Chelsea move onto bigger and better things, the visitors were left to rue what could have been. Benfica coach Jorge Jesus felt his side deserved to progress and felt particularly aggrieved by the referee, who handed out eight yellow cards - including two to Pereira - on the night.
"Well, we've been the better team in both legs - in Lisbon and in London," he said. "I am very proud of my men. We played with 10 men for the best part of an hour and we were still the better team. We made Chelsea look ordinary.
"We were penalised by the referee tonight, unfortunately, and unjustly I feel, but that's football in the end. We come away as losers but I feel my team gave everything and I am very proud of my players tonight.
"We didn't look as if we only had 10 men out there tonight. We looked as if we had 11 men. It turned out that Petr Cech was their best player, he is obviously a great keeper and he made some great saves tonight.
"Moreover, Chelsea have some great individual players, there's no denying that. Still, my players came back in the second half even though we were down to 10 men, pushed them back in the final third and pinned them back for most of the game.
"In the end, even after coming back to 1-1 we nearly scored in the end and missed a couple of very good chances before suffering on the counter-attack."
While Benfica rarely looked like the side that twice managed to hold Manchester United in the group stages, Jesus was quick to dismiss Chelsea's prospects of overcoming Barcelona in the next round.
"I can't understand how we're out," he said. "What hurts me is that we've knocked out better teams than this Chelsea. That's what leaves me with a certain sense of revolt. I may be wrong but I believe Chelsea have no chance against Barcelona."