While Frank Lampard and John Terry continue to annoy everyone with their urgency to rush over to lift that trophy like they own more than anyone else, there are others who deserve more praise for yet another successful finish to a Chelsea season, this time with a Europa League title. Fernando Torres, who has now won everything but a league championship; Juan Mata, who is in the same boat as Torres, only with less criticism about his ability; and Rafa Benitez, who is leaving with a smile, and as a winner.
Torres’ opening goal for Chelsea was very similar to his one against Germany in the Euro 2008 final. A break down in defense, an excellent long ball, this time coming from Petr Cech, who also has a big piece on the trophy thanks to one fantastic save off an Oscar Cardozo shot. Last time it seemed like it was just another stepping stone as he conquers Europe and English football, praised and regarded as one of the best strikers in the world. Five years later, with a World Cup, another Euro and the Champions League title all a part of his resume, his career is something needed saving, which he might have done this season.
Juan Mata is on the same rising course. Benfica did a very good job in keeping Mata and Oscar out of involvement, which allowed the Portuguese team, which really do deserve some share of pity from about everyone who isn’t Porto or Sporting (fierce rivals should never feel compassion for each other when it comes to purely-sport matters), to be the dominant side for most of the match, although without creating enough chances. But Mata deserves praise for being Chelsea’s best player all season long, and the main reason they’ve gotten this far, winning another title, and eventually clinched the Champions League spot.
Branislav Ivanovic has been moved around the pitch, and hasn’t always been the best of defenders. But he does know how to score goals, and apparently big ones as well. It was his only goal in a European competition this season, but if you score just once, it can be none other than a 91st minute header that seals the deal, and makes him a winner of every possible club title in the span of four seasons.
There’s Rafa Benitez, who didn’t pull off the cleverest of game plans, at least initially, using Ramires on the wide right, leaving David Luiz all alone in the middle of the pitch. Benfica were clipped on their wings initially, and having another man in the middle of the pitch might have helped contain Gaitan, Matic and Rodrigo, who did everything right except that final shot, especially during the first half. But he leaves Chelsea as a winner, giving another example of how Chelsea fans who abused him during his short stay aren’t the cleverest of supporters.
Benitez believed in Torres, or maybe he was forced to. It didn’t matter. Despite not scoring a league goal since December, Torres will finish the 2012-2013 season after scoring a total of 22 goals, and proving, at least on the European stage, that there’s still enough reason to put some faith in his abilities, and maybe all he needs is someone to feel confident in him, and those scoring abilities everyone was sure have disappeared come surging back.