A Closer Look at Rafa Benitez' Chelsea Reign

It all started with the introduction of our new manager.. After an all too familiar November slump at the Bridge, Chelsea decided to...

It all started with the introduction of our new manager..

After an all too familiar November slump at the Bridge, Chelsea decided to part ways with Champions League and FA Cup double winning manager Roberto Di Matteo, turning instead to Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard had reportedly been in contact with the club PRIOR TO the exit from the Champions League (courtesy of Juventus).

Already that is going to bring about plenty of hostility from the home support, disposing of a club legend and Champions League winning manager before he is given a fair crack of the whip. On top of that, to hire a man who is loathed by 90% of the fan base was never going to be a smart move.

Before a ball was kicked our new manager was undoubtedly up against it, which couldn't have been helpful. But to be fair this sort of reception can hardly be labeled as unexpected. You have to wonder why he decided to take the job when he must have been fully aware what the fan's reaction would be to his arrival (especially under these circumstances).

Pep Guardiola saw what he was in for if he took over at the Bridge; a short tenure, possible damage to his reputation, huge pressure for instantaneous success, etc and so he decided to pass up on the move. Rafa on the other hand jumped at the chance, choosing to join a club where he would be universally hated and where, judging by recent comments, he believes the squad is far too thin to challenge for trophies.

Since Benitez was dismissed as Inter Milan boss in 2010, he had been out of the game and out of work (excluding the occasional pundit appearance on Sky). Over those 2 years of his unemployment plenty of top teams had been in need of a manager, so it makes you wonder; why wasn't he recruited before now?

I digress, the important thing is that he turned up at the Bridge facing unparalleled anger and frustration from the home support.

Results under Rafa & his handling of the press

He subsequently had the worst start ever for any Chelsea manager under Roman Abramovich, boasting an appalling home record against far weaker opposition ala QPR.

Image capture taken from the DailyMail

We have now won just 6 of 11 league matches under Benitez, dropping points against teams who frankly we should be beating. West Ham, FulhamSouthampton and Queens Park Rangers have all gotten results against the Blues, but the most irritating thing about these results were the poor performances that led to them.

The new manager was brought in to create a defensive stability within the team, however his stats over the first 16 games show that he has far from achieved that, actually having the 2nd worst defensive record of all Chelsea managers in the Abramovich era. Add this to the fact that under Benitez we have been eliminated from the 2 competitions in which we were extremely strong favorites to bag some silverware; both the Club World Cup and the Capital One Cup. It's safe to say that he has not had a very successful reign at the club thus far.

So, following this horrible sta
rt we have heard multiple excuses from Benitez. Rather than him taking responsibility for the team's shortcomings, he has decided to wash his hands of any blame and insist that the negative results are down to everyone else but him. That is one thing, but at the same time he feels the need to praise himself for any small victories he feels he has, so when things go well it is all down to him, but when things go badly, that isn't his fault. This is down right hypocritical and the arrogance of his statements are honestly infuriating.

If you go outside and it's snowing and you fall down, they say, "Ah, he fell down". But the reality is, it's snowing, which makes it slippery and makes you fall down.
So if you analyse all the managers [at Chelsea], how many had a pre-season here? Not me. How many managers have spent massive money here? Not me. How many managers have played in Japan in the middle of the season and have some players injured and some at the African Nations? Only me. 

When asked about the fan's chants of "You don't know what you're doing" during the game against League 1 Brentford, Rafa replied;

I can guarantee that playing Mata, changing the game, we know what we are doing

So with his snow analogy, he is essentially saying even though it looks like he has done a bad job, it is in fact everyone else's fault. Good managers know when to take responsibility for bad results, even when a bad result isn't even remotely down to them. Roberto Mancini is famous for making these statements, and in doing so he lifts some of the pressure off of the players so they can put a loss behind them and concentrate/focus 100% on the next game. By not admitting any fault, Rafa is indirectly blaming the players and the club, keeping him free of responsibility, which is outright cowardly.

He seems to relish in pointing out how his situation is unfair, how other managers at Chelsea had better chances than him to succeed due to the players he has available. All managers face adversities, that is part of the job, but to complain about that and make excuses is unheard of, it is reminiscent of a school child who doesn't get their own way.

I distinctly remember a Chelsea manager who has gone through the majority of harships that Benitez has pointed out, yet come out on top...

No pre-season you say? RDM took over towards the end of a failing campaign, he had no pre-season yet won us the double

Injury ridden squad with severely depleted resourced you say? John Terry suspended for the Champion's League final, Gary Cahill and David Luiz injured against Barcelona, Ramires playing right back and Bosingwa playing centre back.

ACON you say? Every manager deals with this, Drogba and Essien in their prime were a far bigger loss than Mikel and Moses.

Rather than trying to make excuses for why he isn't doing well, he should work with what he has and try to fix it. What was available was enough for Di Matteo and managers before who have dealt with the same problems that come with being an 'interim' boss, and may i add they have come out as winners.

As for his final comment after the Brentford game, it pretty much speaks for itself. Whilst batting away any responsibility for the negative results, he was ready to heap praise upon himself for a clearly 'genius tactical move'. He took off an under-performing Marko Marin and brought on our best performing and most consistent playmaker and now goalscorer over the last 2 seasons. Brilliant, you introduced a player who is arguably in the best form in the Premier League right now against a League 1 side and it changed the game, who would have thought? However he failed to mention he left Demba Ba on the bench until the 80th minute who with his first few touches of the ball set up the equalizer. He should have been subbed on WAY before that point, proven by his instant impact.

Substitutions, Tactics & Motivating the players

On the subject of his substitutions, I often find myself flabbergasted by his decisions to swap defender for defender when we are chasing a game and trying to score a goal or two. Against Swansea when we needed to overturn a 2 goal deficit he decided to change centre back for centre back, and against Brentford when we needed to equalise, he swapped in a right back for a right back whilst we had a striker and attacking midfielders waiting in the wings... 'Genius'. He often waits far too long to introduce fresh legs and/or a different approach, he just doesn't seem at all effective at changing the game once it's underway.

If someone is not performing or if there is a better option on the bench, then do what is necessary!

Sometimes Rafa, the most simple option is often the right option.

It seems like he is out to prove to the world that he is a tactical mastermind, his constant tweaking and changing does little good seeing as he keeps the same rigid formation and tactics against every team. The top managers can change formations and style of play to suit the team they are coming up against. Sir Alex Ferguson has mastered this, he looks at his opposition and chooses a system which will best pray on that team's weaknesses.

Chelsea's current personnel could easily fit into multiple formations as well as our 4-2-3-1, for example 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2 and 4-4-2. However Rafa has already shot down the idea of starting more than one front man on any occasion, when questioned about it before the second leg of the Capital One Cup he said;

It's not easy for us to play both at the same time given the quality of the players playing behind. It's an option for 15 minutes, and we can do it if necessary.


So, even though Ba set up Torres for his goal against Brentford, it looks unlikely that they will ever get a chance to strike up a partnership because Rafa refuses to change up the formation. To be fair even when he did bring on Ba, it was on the left wing rather than altering the shape to accommodate both strikers in their preferred roles.

Even with our current injuries and suspensions permitting, it would be a relatively simple task to incorporate our skillful attacking midfield players AND both strikers when we need a more attacking and direct approach. For example, a 4-3-1-2 would work perfectly;





We still have Mata in the number 10 role pulling the strings, as well as having Oscar but in a deeper midfield 3 (where he plays for Brazil). Putting Oscar deeper could also solve the problem we have of controlling the midfield tempo, he is a talented passer of the ball and has no problems running the game for his national side. With both Ba and Torres up top, it gives the opposition defence twice as much to think about and doubles the chance of the ball sticking when it gets played into the final third.

It isn't difficult for anyone to see that Rafa needs to change up his tactics, we are very predictable and it is becoming increasingly obvious to other teams how to defend against us. His stubbornness and apparent tactical naivety draws inherent comparisons between him and Roberto Di Matteo, who was often criticised for the exact same faults.

Many will point to his successes at Valencia, claiming that shows he is a much better tactician than his recent performances at Inter Milan and Chelsea suggest. However, that was a long time ago and since then the game has moved on and evolved, unfortunately Rafa has not. He has failed to keep up with the way football has changed and his tactics reflect this.

An important part of being a manager is the ability to motivate players so that they give 110% for you, for their teammates and for the shirt. Unfortunately, as well as the crowd not being won over by the Spaniard, the players don't seem overly impressed either. They don't seem to pour their heart into the game as they did under RDM, they lack that extra bit passion and desire that can drag you over the finish line even if you are under-performing. I don't see Rafa as the strong motivational type, so I cannot see this changing from now until the end of the season!

What is the reason behind our poor home form?

The press have been very quick to blame the hostile atmosphere created by the Blues home crowd, granted this is a contributing factor, however I believe there is a far more simple root cause.

The home team is always expected to take the initiative and attack the opposition, they are expected to dominate the game, play some good football and ultimately put on a show. The natural stance that lower teams take when coming to the Bridge is to sit back in a compact shape and counter attack when Chelsea commit men forward. So with that in mind it is imperative that Chelsea make good movement in and around the box to open up spaces in a tight compact defence.

The problem is that Rafa Benitez changed our style from expansive and free flowing, to rigid and vertical football. With all players sticking to their positions in the attack, there is little to no rotation between our advanced midfield 3. Their unpredictable and interchanging movement is what created space under RDM which helped us break down teams who were defending deep. Now that there are shackles placed on our attacking players, their movement is strictly vertical which is far easier to defend against.

For evidence of this look no further than the QPR game, they defended deep, relied on Adel Taarabt to hold up the ball on the break and they ultimately scored from this on the counter, the same tactics were used by Southampton and also Swansea. Yes, Swansea did have a huge helping hand from Branislav Ivanovic, however we failed to put even 1 past them over 180 minutes of football because we are too predictable under Rafa.

It is not only at home where we have been found out due to our lack of free attacking movement, the game against Corinthians again showcased how poor we are at breaking teams down and ultimately how vulnerable we are on the counter attack. This loss had nothing to do with the fan's negativity yet we saw exactly the same kind of performance that we have been seeing at home. We were billed as the favorites, we were the ones who took the initiative, we failed to break down a compact defence and got punished on the break. The same thing happened against Brentford, however our quality did shine through in the end (as it should seeing as we are 2 leagues higher!).

Simply put, under Rafa our creative players are not given the required freedom needed to pull a defence out of position and exploit the spaces.

Transfers & Positional Changes

Whilst the majority of his Chelsea reign thus far has been far from a success, he has made some very good calls which I have been impressed by.

Moving David Luiz from centre back into centre midfield seemed to breathe new life into the side, he was fizzing passes across the pitch at will and looking like he was really enjoying himself. He also gave us a physical presence which we really needed in the centre of midfield, full credit to Rafa, that was an inspired move that paid off.

In the same vein, moving Ivanovic into centre back was similarly a good move, apart from his horrible game against Swansea he has been a consistent performer in the middle, a powerhouse next to Gary Cahill and he stepped in superbly during JT's absence.

Azpilicueta has become a regular feature under Rafa and has proven himself to be a competent right back both attacking wise and also defensively. He has got caught out on occasion, but hopefully this is just a sign of the side-effects that come with the Premier League's learning curve, he is still fairly young after all.

Victor Moses has played in almost every game under Rafa and has put in some very good performances. He provides the team with a more direct and powerful approach going forward, he looks like he is improving every game and again credit to Rafa for putting him in the side.

Oscar out wide however is a waste and you can rarely get the most out of him from the wings. Rafa has been reluctant to call upon the young Brazilian's services until he was forced to by injuries, suspensions and the ACON. He is such a huge talent with a bright future and we should be using him through the middle, either in an advanced central role, or a little deeper in the midfield.

Demba Ba's signing was a no brainer, £7m for a proven Premier League goalscorer who offers a physical presence that Torres does not. Great signing, i hope it isn't the last in the January window.


So should we be screaming for Rafa Out? No, I don't think so.

Although he has been far from ideal as our manager, he is here now and another change in manager during the middle of the season will cause a media frenzy, further ruin our image and create further instability at the club.

But in saying that, should he be given a long term contract next season? NO WAY! Not under any circumstances!

He is not right for the Chelsea job in any way whatsoever, the fans don't like him, he isn't winning and he refuses to take responsibility for his faults!

Article by Martin Smith
Follow me on twitter @MartinSmithCFC

Find your Chelsea tickets at Viagogo!

Carefree & KTBFFH


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