Ahead of Chelsea's do-or-die encounter with Benfica tomorrow, I travel back in time to last Tuesday to assess their chances at the season's end.
Armchair fans were rejoicing on Tuesday night as terrestrial and satellite channels offered a quadruple helping of cup-competition fare as the Champions League and FA Cup enter its final stages.
ITV chose to broadcast the quarter-final replay between Sunderland and Everton, ESPN tied up the loose ends of the same stage of the FA Cup by showing Tottenham Hotspur versus Bolton Wanderers and Sky Sports found room to air APOEL Nicosia in the final throes of their extraordinary Champions League adventure as Real Madrid went in for the kill.
But as great a game as Everton's win at the Stadium of Light was, with the Toffees setting up a tasty Merseyside semi-final at Wembley, the exploits of the capital city's richest team at the other Stadium of Light (or Estadio da Luz for authenticity) was the pick of a great bunch of live entertainment.
A tanned-looking Jeff Stelling reported from a standing position near the pitch in Portugal as regulars, Graeme Souness and Jamie Redknapp, were joined rather ominously by Glenn Hoddle to dissect Benfica's first-leg against Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final. Despite the widespread criticism of the Chelsea owner's fondness for changing managers, the Blues remain England's last remaining hope in Europe's premier competition and could still win the FA Cup and qualify for next season's Champions League.
Standing in their way, and a likely semi-final pairing with the mighty Barcelona, was a Benfica side who had dispensed of Manchester United earlier in the tournament and are renowned for their home form. The likes of Oscar Cardozo, Pablo Aimar and Nicolas Gaitan in their ranks demonstrates the quality of the team and when the club eagle landed perfectly on its perch, in a pre-match ritual that is meant to denote the positive outcome of the imminent fixture, the Portuguese fans would have felt confident of continuing the country's impressive record over English opposition this season.
Overseeing the proceedings in the gantry were Martin Tyler and Gary Neville; a perfect combination to mirror the mixture of old and new within the Chelsea squad and while, occasionally, the rapport between the two of them had me pining for the return of Andy Gray, the footballers put on a terrific team display that showed a togetherness that has been lacking for large parts of the season.
The first-half required Chelsea to be patient and Benfica were unable to find the gaps in the away side's defence as a competitive 45 minutes rarely threatened a goal, Raul Meireles' stinging long-range effort apart. Chelsea were happy to weather the storm and Ramires' runs down the channel and Fernando Torres' bright movement up front suggested that Benfica would have to work hard not to concede a vital away goal.
As expected, the tempo increased in the second-half with Benfica pushing to gain an advantage and, as a result, the game became stretched as a goal seemed in the offing. Cardozo rifled a volley through a blue-shirted crowd but an inspired David Luiz blocked the goal-bound strike on the line with Petr Cech beaten before Salomon Kalou headed high and ugly after Torres lofted in a perfect ball for the Ivorian. Juan Mata hit the post after rounding the home side's keeper before, finally, in the 75th minute, Kalou atoned for his earlier miss by sliding in to guide home Torres' inviting ball after great work from Ramires on the right.
Another Chelsea break saw Mata waste an opportunity on the left with a "Hollywood chip" according to Tyler's informed co-commentator before Ashley Cole nearly undid all of the Blues' good work by shooting just wide of his own goal in the final minutes. Chelsea fans would have been delighted to see the celebrations of the team as each member, 'Old Guard' and the new crop of stars, congratulated each other on a welcome victory for the club.
The post-match analysis rightly applauded the efforts of the Chelsea players and the club's caretaker manager, though Hoddle's assertion that Roberto di Matteo is "in pole position" to take the vacant role at the club, citing the probability of reaching two cup finals, was rebuked by the more reasonable Souness, who reminded the ex-Chelsea boss of the challenge offered by Barcelona should they finish off Benfica at Stamford Bridge.
It must be noted that the pressure seems to have been taken off the Chelsea players recently and with more performances like Tuesday night, it's very possible that Spurs will be nervously looking over their shoulders as di Matteo's team aim to displace the Lilywhites from fourth spot in the league and triumph in their FA Cup showdown. But first, the Blues will have to ensure that Benfica's London calling is not a happy one and then, just maybe, a tie against Barcelona won't be the foregone conclusion that a game against Chelsea would have been only a few months ago.
Luiz, Ramires and Torres gelled wonderfully with Cech, Cole and John Terry in Lisbon and, as the season intensifies, Chelsea finally appear to be lifting their Blues.