Benfica can rattle Blues' old guard
Scott Minto, who played full-back for both clubs, thinks Chelsea have just enough to prevail, writes Steve Tongue
That declining breed of one-club men apart, there are few footballers who have not collected some divided loyalties along the road to retirement, and Scott Minto is no exception. Having trodden, uniquely, the path from London's Stamford Bridge to Lisbon's Stadium of Light, he views this week's Champions' League tie between Benfica and Chelsea with the keenest of interest and fondest of memories from some 15 years ago.
"Chelsea in the  FA Cup final was my biggest game, but Benfica was my biggest achievement, going to a big club in a different country," he says. Alas, only one of them can survive over the next fortnight. Minto, once a cultured left-back and still a boyish 40, believes it will be Chelsea, but only if their attitude and approach are sharper than in the previous round against Napoli, when a 3-1 defeat in the away leg after scoring first appeared to have surrendered the initiative. "If they underestimate Benfica in any way, it'll be a similar result to the one in Naples," he said. "And to ask them then to produce a second leg again like they did at Stamford Bridge would be very difficult."
By the time of that second game, of course, Andre Villas-Boas had been sacked and Chelsea were under the command of Roberto Di Matteo and Eddie Newton, team-mates of Minto's in the Cup final victory over Middlesbrough. At Porto, Villas-Boas finished 21 points ahead of second-placed Benfica in an unbeaten league campaign last season, but his determination to make a statement to and about Chelsea's old guard in Naples proved his undoing. "Since Robbie's taken over they seem to have that togetherness back," Minto said. "In a way I feel sorry for Villas-Boas because I think he was given the remit to change things. But maybe he did that too early. If you do that then the people coming in have to be better than the people you're leaving out, especially if they're club legends. And you have to win games. Whatever team you put out, they have to get it right, which they didn't in Naples."
Subject to injury and weekend weariness, he believes the old guard will be on duty in Lisbon; and that the notion of a powerful dressing-room running the club is exaggerated.
"I'd argue that this group of players have less influence than they did a couple of years ago. It made me laugh when a big issue was made of Didier Drogba speaking to the players at half-time recently. He wasn't trying to override Villas-Boas. When things are not going well you want your experienced players to stand up and show character.
"The same with John Terry doing what he was doing on the sidelines [after being substituted against Napoli], that's him desperate to be out on the pitch where he would be doing exactly the same.
"For me, without that type of player and that type of experience Chelsea wouldn't have won what they've won in recent games and would be out of the Champions' League. I think Drogba will start on Tuesday but I was really impressed with [Fernando] Torres when he came on in the second leg in a wide position and worked really hard. And the goals he's scored in the past week should help his confidence. David Luiz I'd play because I'm a great believer that you always want to play against your old club. There's been criticisms of him but they always want to do well against an old team."
Benfica, beaten only once in the league this season, are still heavily reliant on a South American core despite selling the Brazilians David Luiz and Ramires. Like that pair, Minto knows from his 18 months in Lisbon what sort of reception awaits on Tuesday: "They're going to experience a similar atmosphere to Napoli, with a 65,000 crowd that really gets involved. Walking up the steps on to the pitch and having the eagle flying round is always great. The fans are so passionate it really can drive them on."
His first experience of that, after leaving Chelsea on a Bosman following the Cup final, was when a pre-season training session was attended by 5,000 fans. A few months later the coach was sacked and a new president brought in Graeme Souness.
Soon Premier League players such as Mark Pembridge, Brian Deane, Michael Thomas and Dean Saunders were following the trailblazing Minto, who returned midway through the next season when West Ham offered a route back to London.
After retirement he took a course in sports journalism and has now established himself as a pundit and presenter, the latter role taking in Sky's Spanish football, which adds a further dimension to this week's divided emotions: after watching Barcelona and Real Madrid regularly,he is drooling over the possibility – probability? – of a potential meeting in the Champions' League final, conveniently facilitated by the semi-final draw. On Tuesday Madrid play their first leg against the unsung Apoel Nicosia and the following night Barça start their tie with Milan, the winners awaiting Benfica or Chelsea.
"Real Madrid-Barcelona is the sexiest game in world football," Minto says, "and there's no game I'd rather see. The two best teams with the two best players, probably the two next best as well in Xavi and Iniesta – there's just something about the clasicos. For the Champions' League final, that would be the perfect game. Much as I'd love Chelsea to get there and if not them then Benfica, that's the game the whole of Europe would wantto see."
Benfica v Chelsea is on Sky Sports 2 on Tuesday, kick-off 7.45
Chelsea in the Champions' League
1999-2000 q-f: lost to Barcelona 4-6
2003-04 s-f: lost to Monaco 4-5.
2004-05 s-f: lost to Liverpool 0-1
2005-06 last 16: lost to Barcelona 2-3
2006-07 s-f: lost to Liverpool pens
2007-08 final: lost to Man Utd pens
2008-09 s-f: lost to Barcelona 1-1
2009-10 last 16: lost to Inter 1-3
2010-11 q-f: lost to Man Utd 1-3
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