The first of the series and hopefully not the last (or maybe the last, in case Rafa gets sacked before the end of the season) attempt to analyze the performance of Rafa Benitez as the Chelsea manager on a monthly basis. Obviously, like most Chelsea fans, I despise him. But this won’t get in my way of judging the “tactical genius” and the enigma that is Fat Spanish… *cough* excuse me… Rafael Benitez. Jokes apart, I’ve always been under the impression that if a team wins, the credit should be given to both the manager and the players and I intend to credit/blame Benitez wherever it’s due.
However, I start this article with a sense of disappointment that Benitez has been the center of almost every discussion between Chelsea fans. Whether on how stupid his substitutions have been in the past or the excuses he gives for losing a game to make himself look better (read: blaming fans for defeats)- it’s all about Rafael Benitez. Hardly a few Chelsea fans still discuss tactics, how the team should improve and what needs to be done to correct our mistakes. So here is a report which goes beyond the usual speculation of when Benitez will get the sack.
Chelsea Vs West Brom
A must win game for a strong hold on the top 4 came on the back of a Benitez rant against the fans, criticizing them for directing abuse at him rather than getting behind the team. Not to mention that previous encounters against West Brom has been the final league game for recent Chelsea managers. However, Benitez managed to stay and successfully get three points at the Bridge.
He opted to start with Ivanovic and Luiz as the central defense combination which meant another game on the bench for John Terry (Not going down well with the fans). Eden, Oscar and Juan started the game behind Ba. We went on to win the game 1-0, a score line which should have been more but nevertheless a Premier League clean sheet since December was heartily welcomed by the Chelsea fans.
1. Good decision by Rafa to start Ba instead of Torres upfront obviously because we were to face Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League. Nevertheless, credit given. Maybe he has finally realized that Ba should be his first choice striker and not Torres. (Wishful thinking)
2. Playing Ivanovic as the center back was a good decision again. He looked more composed and did his job well, even if he had very little to do. A good shift by Branislav after a few weak performances recently.
3. Credit to Benitez and the team for a good second half pressing by the team. We worked hard as a team and were confident enough to keep the clean sheet. (Although I must admit, I was pretty nervous)
4. A reasonably good post match press conference where he praised the fans for backing the team. The “Interim one” refused to rise to the bait offered by reporters who goaded him for another crazy rant.
Few games have passed by where Benitez hasn’t done a “whoopsie” but this was definitely one of them. However, I would still like to mention the fact that Steve Clarke did us a favour because his tactics were horribly useless. They tried to move the ball slowly from the back which wasn’t working as planned. Their plan B was to launch the ball to Shane Long and hope he creates something on his own, which didn’t turn out to be a smart move either.
Steaua Bucharest Vs Chelsea
By far the worst performance I’ve seen this season (I’ve said that before and I’m gradually becoming immune to it) which surprisingly came on the back of a confident victory at the Bridge. Steaua deservingly won 1-0 which could’ve been shockingly more if we were facing a better opposition. Blame has to be put on Benitez no doubt, but for me, the players on the field are to be blamed equally for the loss, if not more. I saw zero passion, and no aggression to win the game. I don’t know what Benitez writes in his little notebook, but if it’s not food orders then he definitely needs to note down too many areas where the team needs to work on.
Positives (Yes, there are a couple, believe it or not)
1. Resting Cole for the big game and starting with Ryan on his preferred LB position was a good move. Although he conceded a penalty and had a dreadful night, at least he wasn’t playing on the wings.
2. Good and quick substitutions isn’t really Benitez’s thing but he did well to correct his mistakes replacing Yossi with Mata just after an hour mark and Eden for Marin 10 minutes later.
1. Starting Yossi over Marin was wrong in my opinion. It’s he who might have a future at the club and not Yossi. Marin has been performing reasonably well of late and is still not getting his chances even as an impact player. He turned out to be the only spark after he came on for Eden late in the game.
2. When a team needs some motivation, I feel the manager should provide them with it. But the team started the second half as clumsily as the first, this suggests that Rafa didn’t really fulfill his duty as a manager.
3. The bench consisted of one back up goalkeeper, two right backs, a center back and two attacking midfielders. Moses was benched against West Brom and played only a small part as a sub. Why wasn’t he travelling with the team is beyond me. Surely the obvious reason is he was being rested for the United game, but Moses has played the least amount of minutes (199) among Mata (269), Oscar (258) and Hazard (202) over the last four matches. He is young and an aggressive player who could have been useful even as an impact player (if not a starter) in this game particularly.
Manchester United Vs Chelsea
“Impending doom”. After one of your worst performances you wouldn’t want to face a team who just got kicked out of Champions League game because of a red card. After watching the first half, the description looked apt. But the second half, and the substitutions completely changed the game. We earned a 2-2 draw (probably deserved a win) and forced a replay.
1. His substitutions were the biggest positive in this game. Bringing on Eden for Moses and Mikel for Frank was pretty obvious to everyone, but he made the decision very early in the second half which only helped our cause. Not to mention, both the subs played brilliantly and were pivotal in earning us a draw.
2. However stupid it may sound but I feel we went into the first half with a game plan unlike that against Steaua Bucharest. We conceded two goals because of our defensive errors but we were pressing well. We were searching for a goal to reduce the deficit even though we failed to find one, in the first half.
3. We only got better in the second half. The approach was the same but we looked more balanced with Mikel and stronger with Eden (no offense Moses’ fans, he’s still good). Good heavy pressing combined with determination and passion to get back into the game was very encouraging to see.
4. Rafa handled the Ferguson Hand shake snub well. This is what he had to say on that – “I was waiting. I have education because I know a lot of people are watching, so I knew what to do” (owned).
1. Frank had a bad game in the pivot against Steaua Bucharest. I love Frank and I know this isn’t a formation he fits into or the position, but he can only play well against weaker oppositions in the pivot. Rafa should’ve been brave enough to start with Mikel-Ramires and bench Frank for this game. It’s a big decision but isn’t that what brave managers do? Nevertheless, he corrected his mistake early in the second half for which I’m grateful.
2. Not exactly a negative for this game, but Hazard could have started this game if Moses would have travelled and started the game against Steaua Bucharest. I’ve already explained why. The outcome of the game might have been totally different.
3. Rafa still hasn’t worked on our defensive problems as we looked vulnerable (to say the least) for the whole of 90 minutes. The first two goals show how poor we’ve been defensively. Our defenders don’t seem to sync well as half of them were trying to hold the line and half wanted to go back and track the runs. Even Peter Cech was at fault for the first goal. Benitez would have to look into improving this area before the next game against Steaua at home.
That’s three matches for you. Let’s hope we get positive results in the coming Premier League games West Ham (home) and Southampton (away) this month. Not to mention we will have to deal with the fixture congestion after we forced a replay last night (not that I’m complaining). Watch this space for the second half of the monthly review of the one and only (wait for it) “The Interim one”.
Come on You Blues!