Branislav Ivanovic’s winner against Benfica so late in the game typified the indomitable spirit seen on so many occasions from this squad in recent times, and the Serbian defender has given his thoughts on how such matches are won.
There were shades of the Champions League final in Munich about Wednesday night’s Europa League success, although thankfully the 93rd-minute header from a Juan Mata corner meant the nerve-shredding experience of a penalty shoot-out was avoided.
Ivanovic admitted Chelsea had been stretched by some of the Lisbon side’s play, but that only emphasised our ability to win high-pressure matches when all is not going smoothly.
‘The last couple of years with Chelsea there is always drama and it is always interesting,’ Ivanovic said as he reflected on events in Amsterdam.
‘Benfica were outstanding in the first half and we couldn’t control them, and we were happy after the first half to be 0-0. The Fernando [Torres] goal gave us back confidence and we tried to play and we were back in the game with this goal. We tried to push and physically it was a very difficult game.
‘A final is always difficult and you cannot know what will happen during the game,’ he continued.
‘There are always some surprises and for us it was massive. As a team we try to use our experience from the Champions League and from every game we play in the Premier League. We have enough experienced players that even when we don’t play well we know how we have to control the game, and this gives a good result in the end.’
The 29-year-old elaborated on the spirit within the camp.
‘There is a great feeling with these great guys with personality, and they are working hard every day and preparing the game and fighting for each other. This is one of the most important things during the difficult moments on the pitch, that you find the motivation and you know that your team mates will fight for you.’
Having cited Torres’s opener, scored after an hour of the final, as the main turning point in the eventual 2-1 victory, Ivanovic went on the praise the contribution of the Spaniard who netted six Europa League goals.
‘Until January he was our only striker and he played every game which is very hard, and sometimes he played a game tired. It is a good thing he was strong this year and he worked a lot and he didn’t get any injuries, because in the Europa League competition if he did not play we did not have a main striker. He deserved to score in the final and he was brilliant.
‘Fernando is doing very well and always he is a team player. Even when he does not score we are not too disappointed because we know how hard he works every day, and I remember the game in Munich when he came on and changed things. I think Fernando is the guy for the big games.’