As Rafael Benitez gets set for his second game tonight against Fulham, there are some interesting points to be made following the 0-0 draw versus Manchester City. The game wasn’t that spectacular but defensively I thought we were very solid with various individual performances impressing me. I know how I and many other Chelsea fans feel about Benitez but I want to take an objective look at his first match and what he did well and what needs to be improved over the next few months.
Firstly his decision to start with Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz at centre-back was odd as to my recollection this is something that hadn’t happened very often, if at all. Nonetheless he went with those two and centre-back and surprisingly Cesar Azpilicueta at right back and Cahill benched. No questions about the left back, thankfully.
In midfield and upfront it was the usual set up with Mikel and Ramires sitting, Oscar playing slightly deeper than usual. Mata and Hazard did play in the usual right side and left side positions with Torres the lone ranger (or donkey?) upfront.
In terms of the match itself defensively we were very solid, David Luiz’s interceptions were crucial and the pairing of Ivanovic and Luiz seemed to work a treat against City’s rather insipid attack. I think Benitez went with Azpilicueta because he knew Mata wouldn’t be playing as a winger and would cut inside so Azpilicueta gave us width on the right side and unlike Ivanovic this season he also had the energy to defend. Ivanovic at times this season has been very lacklustre in his defending when he plays as a right-back so that could have influenced Benitez.
Personally I thought Azpilicueta had an excellent game and he could benefit the most from the change in manager. The back four was very solid, but David Luiz in particular put in a great shift.
What I did notice, and as have many others, that unlike during Di Matteo’s reign when Luiz went on one of his attacking runs both Mikel and Ramires sat back – during Di Matteo’s tenure only one would sit with it usually being Mikel. Ramires’ pace meant every time Man City threatened to break he would be able to deal with it.
Oscar, as I said above, played a much deeper role with the formation often resembling a skewed 4-3-2-1 as opposed to Di Matteo’s 4-2-3-1. Whilst personally I thought the attacking side looked seriously blunted there were signs of Benitez putting his stamp on things. Primarily why I thought we looked poor going forward is that Benitez didn’t want us to lose his first game. Objective achieved.
Mata and Hazard, whilst in their usual roles, were a bit wider than usual and told to stay wide most of the times. I thought both were ineffectual but Pablo Zabaleta was exceptional blocking anything down Chelsea’s left. I think Mata and Hazard will be more effectual as time goes on but it will be a while as they will now have to do more tracking back.
Fernando Torres is not worthy of a paragraph but he shall have one. The ‘striker’ was monumentally useless again and I disagree with Benitez complaining about lack of service. He has lost that yard of pace which essentially (and sadly) rendered him useless in a team that only plays one up front. As I said in the previous post, he needs to re-invent himself and stay forward as opposed to lying deep as he has been.
Overall there were many more positives as opposed to negatives with the team being far more organized and disciplined than under Di Matteo. You have to crawl before you can walk.