London. A revitalized Fernando Torres is expected to lead Chelsea’s attack on Wednesday when it tries to sweep Benfica aside to claim its sixth Champions League semifinal appearance in nine years.
Torres, 28, who scored his first English Premier League goal since September in Saturday’s 4-2 triumph at Aston Villa, has netted three times in the last four starts and is set to continue at the expense of the injured Didier Drogba.
The Spain striker’s renewed sharpness has helped boost Chelsea’s team spirit in recent weeks as he has provided a series of key assists, including one for Salomon Kalou in the 1-0 quarterfinal first-leg victory at Benfica last week.
“Strikers feed off goals, but apart from that Fernando’s been playing very well, even without the goals, by assisting on other goals,” interim manager Roberto Di Matteo told reporters.
“He works so hard for the team. He’s enjoying himself. He’s enjoying playing.”
Drogba, 34, who picked up a toe injury in training on Friday, is fighting to prove his fitness for Wednesday’s game, as is Brazil center half David Luiz.
Former Benfica player Luiz limped off at Villa Park with an ankle ligament injury and is likely to be replaced by England international Gary Cahill.
Chelsea has lost just once in eight matches since Italy’s Di Matteo replaced the fired Andre Villas-Boas last month.
The Londoners have won six of those games to rekindle ambitions in the Champions League, the FA Cup — they face Tottenham in the semifinals later this month — and the Premier League, where they occupy fifth place.
Chelsea will attempt to extend a 100 percent home record of four wins in the Champions League this season against Jorge Jesus’s team, which knocked Braga off the top of the Portuguese league last weekend.
Two-time European Cup champion Benfica demonstrated its potential for an upset when it drew 2-2 at Manchester United in the group stages in November.
Coveted Argentine winger Nicolas Gaitan will be eager to repeat his outstanding performance in the 2-1 victory over Braga on Saturday and further impress the scouts from Europe’s biggest clubs.
Compatriot Pablo Aimar, suspended against Braga, is also available to return with his vision and pinpoint passing skills.
Jesus said Benfica’s first-leg defeat should galvanize his side at Stamford Bridge.
“I think Benfica was the better team in the first leg — even much of the English press recognized Chelsea was lucky to go away with the win,” he said.
“The Champions League is really making us sweat. We still keep playing with great intensity but the fact is we don’t have a lot of time to recover and we can already notice some fatigue.”
Jesus’s main concerns are in central defense where Ezequiel Garay, Jardel and Miguel Vitor are all out injured.
“Luisao is the only center back we have. That is a difficulty and we will have to be a bit creative,” he said.