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Spotlight on Rafa: How Chelsea Have Performed Under the ‘Dead Man Walking’
Following Chelsea’s nail-biting victory against Arsenal on Sunday, Rafa Benitez now has 17 matches as boss under his hefty belt following his appointment as ‘interim’ manager at the end of November. With tension in and around Stamford Bridge showing little signs of abating, can Benitez hold up the stats and argue to have been harshly treated by the Chelsea faithful so far?
Upon taking the role, Benitez knew that expectations could be whittled down to read: ‘Challenge for all honours whilst guiding us into the top three, and get the best out of Fernando Torres’.
With the fans refusing to back the man charged with rescuing their season, it was only ever going to be the results that would change opinions.
Under the Spaniard, Chelsea’s season can fairly be compared to a ‘Big Drop Tower’ rollercoaster ride from the fairgrounds. Reaching lofty heights in one spell, only to come sliding dramatically down the next; Chelsea’s puzzling inconsistency is far from what is expected.
Scoreless draws at home to Manchester City and then Fulham saw Benitez’s start to life in blue begin with a nervous shuffle rather than a sprint. A catastrophic meltdown against West Ham saw only an increase of the Chelsea fans’ enmity, and the 16th minute of every game was now an homage to the fallen Roberto Di Matteo. Benitez’s presence on the bench was seen with as much dissension as a slug on a crisp lettuce leaf.
Yet there was hope of a revival after the 6-1 crushing of Nordsjaelland in the Champions league, with Torres on the score sheet, even though other results saw Chelsea crash out of the competition. Yet with the ignominy of becoming the first holders to relinquish their prize in the group stages, coupled with losing the World Club Championship final against an average Corinthians unit; Benitez’s Chelsea CV was looking worse and worse with each passing week.
Minor resurgences are wholly common during this season for the Blues. The 8-0 demolition of Aston Villa, coupled with big wins away against Southampton and Leeds in the cup gave fans real optimism. But they proved to be false dawns with results such as last week’s 2-2 draw at home to Southampton, a bitter pill considering that they held a two goal lead at the break.
This almost malignant ability to disappoint has been a feature of the teams sent out by Benitez since November. Their sometimes sublime football is too often complemented by a lack of fight and staying power. This is not aided by Fernando Torres’ absolutely perplexing attitude/application/fortitude when leading the line for Chelsea.
Torres’ previous performances this season can be summed up by kindly saying he continues to show flashes of his former self, but Sunday’s game against Arsenal proved once more that he is so far away from being that top Premier League striker that we are fast forgetting.
Wandering tragically around the pitch like a man looking for his lost cat, his contributions were limited to passing the ball behind teammates, and sometimes out of play; once overrunning a promising attack into the grateful arms of Szczesny, and skewing a volley so badly wide that fans were probably wishing it was even Gary Cahill who had had the chance, but he was behind the Spaniard, dismally holding his head in his hands. It was another poor show from the once feared striker, one that will fill his boss with frustration.
Benitez’s answer must be the ‘stop-gap’ striker, Demba Ba. The electric Senegalese front-man’s goal-threat cannot even be compared to the now jar-headed Torres. With 3 goals in his first 5 games, it doesn’t take a genius to know that his inclusion in the starting eleven is fast becoming essential.
As it has been quite vociferously put over the past few months, Benitez is keeping the chair warm for the next permanent manager. There is no real chance of his ‘Interim’ status changing at the end of the season, unlike his predecessor. The man to take over the helm will not be Pep Guardiola, who agreed to join German giants Bayern Munich last week. There is a growing rumour of Jose Mourinho’s possible reappointment, which would certainly quell the unrest amongst the poisonous masses on the King’s Road.
Harry Redknapp said on the eve of his QPR side’s 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, “You’d have to be a real dope to mess it up with that group of players” (source: Mirror). While we all must think the same, Benitez probably knows he cannot actually win with his group of players, or to put it better, he cannot succeed, not in the long run.
The win over Arsenal has once more thrown up the dream of recovery; but Chelsea’s rehabilitation still has quite a way to go, and Benitez and Torres’ inevitable departure may just be the medicine.
What do Chelsea fans make of Rafa’s time in charge so far? Get involved in the comments section below.