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UCL Look Ahead: Chelsea cling to lead, Real Madrid aim to put away APOEL

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Despite all of the strife surrounding Chelsea this season, the Blues are a result away from another trip to the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

If Chelsea are able to make their 1-0 lead against Benfica stand up at Stamford Bridge, a berth in the semifinal against Barcelona — in what would be a rematch of the classic, yet controversial, 2009 semifinal — will be on tap. Benfica have been underestimated before and will hope to take advantage of a Chelsea side that struggles to hold on to leads.

Real Madrid's game against APOEL is something of a mere formality as the Spanish giants carry a 3-0 lead back to the Bernabeu. The Cypriot champions have pulled off major shocks already in their Cinderella run, but a three-goal lead might be too big of a hill to climb.

Even APOEL coach Ivan Jovanovic acknowledges this is likely his side's last game in this season's Champions League, telling The Cyprus Mail "we need to exit the competition in the best possible fashion."

Here is a look ahead to both of today's UCL games:


TV: 2:45 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel

The First Leg: Roberto Di Matteo took a great risk by leaving Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien on the bench while giving Saolmon Kalou and Paulo Ferreira rare starts. The risk paid off when Fernando Torres, who is flirting with a return to form, and Kalou combined to give Chelsea a 1-0 lead and a precious away goal. Benfica were held scoreless at home in a European fixture for the first time in more than a year.

The Lowdown:  Benfica have only lost once on the road in the Champions League but will need to improve on what was a poor offensive showing in Portugal. David Luiz and Drogba are available for Chelsea, while Benfica captain Luisao is most likely out with injury.

Chelsea's form has been volatile to say the least over the past seven months, and Stamford Bridge is hardly the fortress it once was so don't expect a cakewalk for the home side. The fabled "Chelsea Old Guard" that led the emotional comeback over Napoli in the Round of 16 will be available, but their selection is not a foregone conclusion. Benfica will be aggressive from the opening whistle and have scored in every away match in Europe this season. The concern for the visitors will be keeping a clean sheet, something they did twice in the group stage.


TV: 2:45 p.m., Fox Soccer Plus/FoxSoccer2Go

The First Leg: APOEL held out heroically for the first 74 minutes in Cyprus but were eventually swarmed by the indomitable Madrid offense. Karim Benzema hit a double and Kaka scored in the final 16 minutes to all but wrap up the tie before returning to the Bernabeu.

The Lowdown: If they were so inclined, Real Madrid could probably make it an embarrassing night for APOEL. Real Madrid have scored at least three goals in each of their last three games, while APOEL have scored only twice in the same spell. Quite simply, if APOEL were to pull off a victory and advance, it would likely be considered the most improbable feat in Champions League history. Madrid boss Jose Mourinho will likely rest a few regulars in preparation for the stretch run in La Liga and what would be a titanic clash with Bayern Munich in the semifinals.


What do you think of today's games? Can Chelsea hold on or it will be more Champions League disapointment for the Blues? Expect a shocker at the Bernabeu, or do you think Real Madrid will pour it on?

Share your thoughts below.


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