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The 2012-13 Europa League tournament has produced a riveting final match-up. Reigning Champions League title-holders, Chelsea, will square off against a Benfica side looking for their first major European title at the Amsterdam Arena in the Netherlands.
Chelsea and Benfica have met just twice on the European stage, playing one another over two legs during last season’s Champions League quarterfinals. Chelsea won both of those fixtures, achieving a 3-1 aggregate win over the Portuguese club before going on to win the title.
Chelsea find themselves in the Europa League final by an indirect route that saw them knocked out of the Champions League in the Group Stage after they finished 3rd in Group E. It was a harsh result for the Londoners, who finished level with Shakhtar Donetsk – with a superior goal difference – but were eliminated by virtue of being beaten on aggregate in the two match tie between the sides.
Rather than bemoan their fate, Chelsea took their free pass to the Europa League in both hands, defeating Sparta Prague 2-1 on aggregate in the first knockout round before putting two wins over Steaua Bucuresti in the round of 16.
Chelsea had a tougher time of things in the quarterfinals, as Russia’s Rubin Kazan bounced back from a defeat in the first leg of the tie to push Chelsea all the way in the second leg before being defeated 3-2. However, the Blues did just enough to reach the semis, taking the tie 5-4 on aggregate.
The London side were more composed in the semifinals, and never looked in real danger of squandering their Europa League final prospects as they beat FC Basel twice for a 5-2 aggregate win.
Chelsea’s strikers, despite missing out on the group stages, have wasted no time in making their mark on the Europa League. Fernando Torres has already fired home 5 goals – and lies joint 5th in the top scorer charts – while Nigerian import Vincent Moses has 4 goals to his name.
Chelsea have scored a total of 15 goals in their eight Europa League fixtures to date. Their defence has been somewhat sub-standard, letting in 9 goals during the same time period.
The side is also in solid form in the Premier League, and underlined their class and potential when they beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the first week of May. Manager, Rafael Benitez, is slowly but surely earning the respect of Chelsea supporters, and a win in the Europa League final will probably enough to settle him into his role at the club.
Benfica also began their European campaign in the Champions League, featuring in Group G along with Barcelona, Celtic and Spartak Moscow. The club managed just two wins in the group stage, taking home wins against Celtic and Spartak, while also achieving a draw against Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
Benfica was then handed a demanding route to the Europa League final, starting with a round of 32 match against Bayer Leverkusen. After putting away the German powerhouse, Benfica put two wins past Bordeaux before facing an off-colour Newcastle United in the quarterfinals, where a draw an a home win put pay to the Magpies.
In the semifinals Benfica faced their toughest test, losing away to Turkish giants Fenerbahce before pulling off a resounding 3-1 home win in the second leg of their semifinal tie.
Since entering the Europa League, Oscar Cardozo has emerged as a key player for the club, scoring 6 Europa League goals. The team has put away 14 goals in eight Europa League matches, and has conceded goals at a rate of a goal a game.
Benfica are also currently the form side in the Primeira Liga in Portugal, and are on the verge of title glory, with a 1 point lead in the league with three matches remaining in the season. While this is encouraging from a form point of view, there’s a chance their focus may be on their domestic title battle heading into this fixture.
While the Europa League form of these two sides has been equivalent, and Benfica has been impressive against fairly high caliber opposition, Chelsea still appear to be the classier unit.
Unlike Benfica, they’ll have a laser-like focus on winning the Europa League – a result that would make up for a relatively lackluster league season, and put them in line to claim a rare back-to-back Europa League and Champions League titles.
Chelsea’s form has also been formidable of late, and the Blues have been in a ruthless mood, firing home 12 goals in their last five matches. Benfica have suffered a couple of hiccups in the last couple of weeks and are under immense pressure to hang on to their narrow lead in the Portuguese first division.
While Benfica will give Chelsea a good game in the 2013 Europa League final, we see this one going the way of an in-form Chelsea side. With this in mind our 2013 Europa League final is to go with a straight back bet on Chelsea in the match betting markets.
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