The Chelsea midfielder Ramires said last night that the team had regained its 'respect' after the departure of manager Andre Villas-Boas, as they bid to book a Champions League semi-final place against Barcelona in tonight's second leg against Benfica.
If Chelsea progress they will have the chance of revenge over holders Barcelona, who knocked them out in the last four in 2009 and reached the semi-finals last night with a 3-1 win over Milan at the Nou Camp.
Ramires, whose side lead 1-0 from the first leg in Lisbon, was regarded as one of those players in the Villas-Boas camp but conceded that the dismissal of the young Portuguese coach in February and the temporary appointment of Roberto Di Matteo had changed the club. Ramires, who joined Chelsea from Benfica for £18m in 2010, said that the team was more confident.
He said: "We went through a tough period, obviously, and have taken strength from this change in the coach, found new confidence after the change, feeling more respect in ourselves. Roberto has instilled great confidence in us, and we began to realise we are a great team, with great players, and have built from our first victory – in his first game – and gone from strength to strength."
The midfielder is expected to start in a Chelsea team that could also include striker Fernando Torres over Didier Drogba, who trained yesterday. Raul Meireles is also back in contention for the starting line-up having come through a fitness test which puts a question mark over whether Frank Lampard will start the game.
As the last English team left in European competition, Chelsea are facing a difficult run of fixture congestion over the next seven weeks. They have no chance of the Football Association changing its mind over the date of the FA Cup semi-final against referre Bjorn Kuipers were echoed by Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri who said the second penalty given against Alessandro Nesta for tugging the shirt of Sergio Busquets at a corner was "awarded too easily to Barcelona".
Asked about facing Chelsea, the team Barça eliminated in the semi-finals three years ago, Pep Guardiola, their coach, said: "It's too early to talk about playing Chelsea. First they have to get past Benfica. Both teams are very experienced and will be difficult."
He also refused to respond to Ibrahimovic. Guardiola said: "I am not going to answer questions about how Senor Ibrahimovic has played, they are questions for his coach. They were both penalties. They were both given by the referee and we should accept that. To reach this stage five times in a row is a great achievement for the club."
Chelsea, who are bidding to reach a sixth Champions League semi-final in nine years, could start tonight with Fernando Torres over Didier Drogba, who trained yesterday. Raul Meireles is also back in contention for the team having come through a fitness test which puts a question mark over whether Frank Lampard will start the game.
As the last English team left in European competition, Chelsea are facing a difficult run of fixture congestion over the next seven weeks. They have no chance of the Football Association changing their mind over the date of the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham on 15 April, which kicks off at 6pm, and Chelsea wanted brought forward two days.
In response to a question about Torres, who scored on Saturday against Aston Villa, his first goal in the Premier League since September, Di Matteo said that he had noticed a change in the mood of some players. "There are a number who, maybe, haven't had much chances or didn't play as much and are now getting more game-time and expressing themselves at a very good level. We are a team and have to behave like a team. If my strikers work hard for the team and don't score, but someone else does, that's perfectly fine by me."
On the celebrations around Torres when he scored the last goal in the 4-2 win at Villa, Di Matteo said it was a reflection of the "spirit that is flowing through the team at the moment." He said: "Of course, strikers are expected to score goals. That's not a secret. But everybody was happy that we scored that goal and the game was finally over."
Should Torres be selected , it will make a statement about the striker's return to form and how he is regarded in the club. Di Matteo said he would make the decision as to what was the best team at his disposal and that it was not a case of deciding whether the right approach is to attack and see out the tie early or play it more cagey. The Chelsea caretaker manager said that the 1-0 lead from the first leg was "a dangerous result". "This is half-time and we're leading 1-0. But a 1-0 lead is basically nothing. Our players are aware of this, and we'll have to go into this game with the same attitude as against Napoli [in the last round]. Nothing has been done yet. We're aware of that. We need to go and qualify for the next round.
"I didn't think it was a brave selection [for the first leg ]. I thought it was the right selection with the players we had available, with an away game against Benfica. It wasn't a question of being brave. [Tonight] the selection will again reflect the players in best form and shape."
Jorge Jesus, the Benfica coach, maintained that Chelsea were fortunate to win the first leg. He said: "Chelsea have the upper hand, but we are going to approach this game in the same manner as we would have had we won the first game."