The month continues and we still have 3 important must win games which might define our season. Before I continue analyzing the Interim One’s performances as a manager, I would like to mention the fact that this month had one of the easiest fixtures (except United) we’ve faced this season. So winning all or most of them doesn’t really prove the fact that Benitez is a “brilliant” manager. Any half-decent manager would be expected to win these run of fixtures with the team we have. So those fans who say it out loud, that they are finally witnessing the brilliance of the enigmatic Ra-Fail Benitez are sadly mistaken. The game against Southampton brings that group of people back to the harsh reality.
Chelsea Vs Steaua Bucharest
On the back of an encouraging second half display against Manchester United, Chelsea started off their second tie against Steaua Bucharest trailing 1-0. I am glad that Rafa is taking this tournament pretty seriously. We’ve had a terrible season and not winning a single trophy till now is bad even for a team in transition. An exquisite performance by Mata, Eden and (yes, I kid you not!) Torres, even though he missed the penalty, saw us win the tie 3-1 (agg 3-2).
1. Rafa opted to start with Captain Terry in defense. He was rusty early on and did make a few mistakes but gradually returned to his usual self. Scored a vital goal in the second half to give us the lead after Steaua equalized. That would go down well with the fans, well done Rafael Benitez.
2. He did make a mistake against United to play Frank and Ramires in the pivot but was wise enough to not make that error again. Mikel and Ramires in the pivot, ensured balance.
3. Started the game with the trident that is Oscar-Mata-Eden, the strongest three in my opinion simply because Moses hasn’t really been playing well recently, indicating that Rafa takes this competition very seriously.
4. Credit to Rafa to start Azpilicueta at right back again. Ivanovic is out of form and low on confidence (especially after his performance in the first leg). To play such a player out of his natural position would only do more harm than good.
1. Late substitutions by Rafa was probably the biggest negative in the game. Bringing on two players (Moses and Yossi) for two of the most important players for Chelsea this season (Mata and Eden) on the 90th minute makes absolutely no sense (other than time wasting). Torres scored in the 71st minute and we lead 3-2 on aggregate. I do realize that if we conceded another goal the game would’ve probably slipped through our hands but what’s the harm in keeping faith on the players we have on the bench. They are fresher and they do realize how important it is to keep the lead. He could’ve made the change early and rest our big players for the coming fixture congestion.
2. Constantly keeping faith in Yossi is completely pointless. I’ve seen zero impact from him when he comes on. Marin offers a lot more explosiveness and brings a lot more than Yossi on the field on any given day. Still Rafa continues to ignore him time and time again.
Chelsea Vs West Ham
Day by day things get brighter for us. This was another game and another opportunity to build on our previous win and get back to changing our abysmal League performance this season. This game marked Frank’s landmark 200th goal, showing why he is a living legend for the Blues. Apart from that, we witnessed the “Eden Hazard show”, who was simply outstanding throughout the game. Complete dominance by the Blues saw us win this one 2-0. Being ahead of Tottenham in the third place has never felt better.
1. Playing Moses in the place of Oscar was a good move. West Ham might be a strong physical side but they’re definitely lack speed when it comes to defending. Moses was the man for this game and Oscar earned a well deserved rest before he represents the Brazilian National side.
2. Credit to Rafa for bringing out the best in the squad and building on the win against Steaua Bucharest. We played some awesome football and it seems we are on our way to achieving a strong top 3 spot. (I hope I didn’t jinx it!)
3. Starting with Frank in the pivot proved out to be a positive. Yes, My opinion still stands that he isn’t the best in that position but playing him against an opposition who don’t have the likes of Nolan and Noble in the midfield, isn’t really a huge risk. He played well and got his landmark goal against his former club. Win-Win.
1. Not playing Terry or Ivanovic at the center back spot was a negative for me. Cahill and Luiz both had international commitments and it would have been easier if one of them had their rest before the International break. If we don’t believe in our players to perform, we will never be able to rotate and stay fresh for every game.
2. Still don’t understand why he had to choose the Ramires-Frank combination. Mikel could’ve played in place of Ramires and the squad would’ve been more balanced. I do realize I am suggesting Mikel-Frank combination which has failed miserably against Steaua but logically they are the better combo (one can defend, one can go forward) Fortunately, we didn’t have to pay for it.
Southampton Vs Chelsea
Ahh ! Finally the new found love for Benitez by some Chelsea fans comes to an end. Before I began posting my views on this, I want to mention the fact that Players have to be equally blamed (if not more) along with Rafa for this poor performance. The fact that the success of the whole team leans on two players, Mata and Eden, makes me sick. They’re brilliant players no doubt, but without them it is pretty clear what we exactly are – average. We lost the game 2-1.
1. Playing Terry and Ivanovic in the center was initially a positive decision. Although it turned out to be a disaster as both of them were having a howler of a game, but with Cahill having an injury scare and Luiz playing for Brazil during the international break , it looked like a bold move (but the right one) to start with Terry-Ivanovic. I’ve said it before, we can’t play a single team every game.
2. I might get a lot of stick for this but Mikel-Frank was initially the right decision (logically as one can defend and one can go forward) because Ramires too had an injury scare during the international break. It hurts to see Essien play for Real Madrid more than ever after this game. The duo had a horrible performance against Steaua, and they didn’t look any better against Southampton.
1. With no Mata, Rafa had a choice whether to start with Hazard or Marin/Benayoun. He decided to go with Marin and it went downhill. We clearly need one of Eden or Mata to win games and this was pretty evident. Maybe Eden wasn’t his 100 percent for this game and Rafa decided to bench him. No one really knows. But for me, if he can make the bench, he can play the first 60 minutes too.
2. Quick substitutions were pretty obvious after our first half performance. Rafa failed to deliver. He did bring Eden On for Marin (right change) at the hour mark. But those who have seen Eden play this season know what he might’ve done with an extra 15 minutes.
3. Mikel for Ramires left us with two CMs going forward in search of a goal. We had an invisible midfield in the first half; we had an unbalanced invisible midfield in the second. It would’ve been sensible to replace Frank and let Ramires run forward without the worry of tracking back to defend.
4. Yossi for Oscar. I couldn’t stop laughing. Oscar himself was poor but this change was hardly going to help our cause. I wonder if we did have a plan B with a different formation, we could’ve seen Ba and Torres upfront in one game. That could’ve helped tremendously.
I end this article with a sense of worry. Any defeat against a Premier League team this month was going to be catastrophic. We are back in the race to secure our top 4 finish. We are back to tweeting #Rafaout even though we know this isn’t going to help matters as he will leave only at the end of the season. It saddens me to acknowledge the fact that a top 4 will be a “trophy” this season with Benitez at the helm. Let’s hope for the best. At least at the end of the season we will see the end of a relationship which was never meant to be – Ra-Fail Benitez and Chelsea.