The prospect of Chelsea playing a major final without their captain John Terry used to be a prospect that struck fear into the heart of each one of their fans.
It says a lot for his diminished influence at Stamford Bridge these days that when he took his place in the stands before kick-off instead, it barely caused a stir.
Naturally everyone was already aware that an ankle injury at Villa Park on Saturday had robbed him of any chance of facing Benfica, in much the same way that a suspension excluded the former England captain from the Champions League final 12 months ago.
The 32-year-old will never win any popularity contests outside SW6, yet Chelsea have always looked a slightly more fragile side mentally and defensively when playing without him, though it should be pointed out that he is not the reliable performer he once was and Chelsea did win that Champions League final last year.
With Terry’s future at the club uncertain, what Chelsea required was someone to step up and be a leader in his absence. So it was helpful to have a figure of the experience and status of Frank Lampard wearing the armband instead. Sitting next to him in midfield was surely the captain in waiting, David Luiz. And this was the best place for the pair to be, because it was an area where the game looked likely to be won or lost.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t at first make the kind of impact those in all-Blue wanted. They seemed to be surrounded by a sea of red shirts, which was in keeping with the scenes in the Dutch capital, where Chelsea’s support looked to be outnumbered by those from Portugal.
As the first half progressed, Chelsea needed more than the casual flick or hopeful punt from the foot of Luiz against his former club. It left Lampard, fresh from his two goals at Villa Park which secured his place as Chelsea’s all-time top scorer, to do his best to lead by example.
A trademark right-footed shot just before the break almost gave his team an undeserved lead. Then as Chelsea otherwise laboured for nearly an hour, the 34-year-old made it clear to his team-mates that their efforts weren’t good enough. He may not have the verbal volume of Terry, but the message came across loud and clear.
It is no wonder the Chelsea board have apparently seen sense and realised that life without Lampard would be immensely problematic, as they seem to be thinking again about letting him leave.
He almost won the game for Chelsea with just two minutes of normal time remaining, curling a trademark strike from outside the area which cannoned off the bar.
But the fact that Chelsea struggled to kill the game off when given the lead by Fernando Torres, summed up the calamitous defending that was on show and why Terry will always be hard to replace.
But in saying that, Branislav Ivanovic’s late header was one straight out of the Terry repertoire, and it was his name being sung by Chelsea’s supporters at the end.
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- Frank Lampard
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- Sport Lisboa E Benfica
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