Rafael Benitez has a final chance to secure silverware at the end of a tumultuous six months in charge at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea take on Benfica in the final of the Europa League on Wednesday.
From the moment he took over from Robert di Matteo, Benitez was given a most hostile reception from a large section of Chelsea fans, who refused to put aside the rivalry he had with the Blues during his time as Liverpool manager.
Benitez has already achieved the primary objective of securing a place in the Premier League’s top four and at least a place in the Champions League qualifiers, but a trophy has so far eluded him.
Chelsea have had plenty of opportunities to get their hands on one this season, but they have fallen short in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup and the semifinals of both the FA Cup and Capital One Cup.
“This is the final and I want to win,” Benitez said, according to Chelsea’s official website. “If we can do it I will be really proud because we worked so hard in difficult circumstances. You have to give credit to all the people involved, the staff and the players.”
If Chelsea do claim victory in Amsterdam they will become the first club to lift the European Cup and the Europa League/UEFA Cup in consecutive seasons, in that order, as well as joining Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich as the only other sides to win all three main European trophies (Chelsea have twice won the Cup Winners’ Cup).
The match is arguably of even greater significance for Benfica, however. The famous Lisbon club, with two European cups to their name, have not won a European trophy in 51 years since the man that led to them to those triumphs, Bela Guttman, was dismissed and then vowed that Benfica would never again taste continental glory.
“Benfica created a name for themselves in the 1960s and 1970s," current manager Jorge Jesus said, according to UEFA’s website. "It hasn't been the same in recent years but we've rediscovered our luster, some of our old prestige. If we compare our recent European pedigree with Chelsea's then obviously Chelsea are favourites. But a final is a final and we at Benfica have a different way of looking at it."
Benfica’s most recent heartache, though, came at the weekend when Jesus’ side suffered their first league defeat of the season in their most important game, against Porto, which saw them relinquish their lead atop the Portuguese Liga.
Chelsea could have two former Benfica players in their side in the form of David Luiz and Ramires. One player that will not be in the Premier League outfit’s lineup, though, is Eden Hazard, who has been ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Chelsea and Benfica met in the quarterfinals of Europe’s premier competition last season when the Blues prevailed on their way to lifting the trophy for the first time.
Where to watch: The Europa League final kicks-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel.
Betting Odds: Chelsea are 7/5 favorites to get the in inside 90 minutes, with Bet 365. A Benfica win is priced at 11/5 and a draw at 12/5. To lift the trophy Chelsea are available at 4/6 and Benfica at 5/4.