27 March ~ Over the last decade, Chelsea have been most Portuguese football supporters' favourite English team. It is a mythical part of England where players and coaches from the Portuguese league go to become richer than they ever imagined. Most were cherry-picked from Porto, but Brazilians Ramires and David Luiz were recent Benfica favourites and their return, Luiz's in particular, is greatly anticipated for this Champions League quarter-final. At Benfica, much like he is at Chelsea, Luiz had excellent technical ability but couldn't read the game to save his life.
Despite this, his likable personality and good looks meant he was enormously popular with the fans, especially kids, females and the notorious No Name Boys ultras. The love-in between them will be nauseatingly ever-present from the moment Luiz sets foot in the Luz. It will probably go to his curly-haired head.
Luiz's team-mate, Didier Drogba, will be on the opposite end of the Luz faithful's attention. The Portuguese media have made a big deal of a Chelsea TV clip featuring Drogba's mocking reaction after learning Chelsea were drawn against Benfica in the Champions League. It doesn't take much for Benfiquistas to villainise an opposition player, and the press insistence of a loss of honour to such a European giant is tiresome. However, it is a dangerous game given Drogba's colour . I fear an unfortunate repetition of the recent reaction Mario Balotelli was given from Porto fans is sadly inevitable.
On the pitch, things are not going so well for Benfica. The young striker Rodrigo, who will be familiar to Bolton supporters, was developing into a fine supporting striker, providing pace and movement for the static first-choice forward Oscar Cardozo. But Rodrigo was sidelined by a bad Bruno Alves tackle in the previous round of the Champions League against Zenit. Benfica subsequently threw away a five-point lead in the domestic title, with their hopes of winning it dwindling by the week.
With Rodrigo losing his starting place, Benfica have lost the imagination and movement he provided up front. The Benfica boss, Jorge Jesus, will want him to feature in the game, but he is a shadow of the player he was earlier in the season. Since his loss of form, smaller Portuguese clubs have been defending deep and grabbing points from Benfica.
Many hope that Chelsea will not play this way, providing Benfica with more space to attack. Whatever happens, with Luiz playing in defence for Chelsea, Benfiquistas can assure themselves that they will have chances to score. Stephen Burrows