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What to expect from Rafa's Chelsea side?

1.06K   //    24 Nov 2012, 19:44 IST

Rafa Benitez has been appointed as our new manager, and I’m afraid this is just something we all are going to have to get used to. Now that the initial boiling over of anger has ever so slightly died down, I think it would be useful to take a look at how Rafa sets up his team, in order to get a better idea of what to expect for the rest of the season.

His 2008/2009 Liverpool team will be a good reference point to illustrate his preferred tactics;







I’m sure you are fully aware of how terrible Rafa is in the transfer market (Robbie Keane anyone), so it is fortunate that he already has pretty much a full squad at his disposal – excluding another striker and possibly a deep midfielder. I highly doubt he will get any authority in regards to the players acquired in January, and let us thank the heavens for that!

Team tactics

Rafa has often been described as a pragmatic manager, even labelled as outright negative on more than one occasion. What is clear with all his teams is that he prefers defensive structure over fluid attacking movement, he builds teams that are hard to beat and are good on the counter. He is definitely a manager who builds from the back, which was shown when his 01/02 Valencia side won La Liga, having scored just 51 goals in 38 games. The team was labelled as a negative side who let the opposition impose their playing style onto the game, rather than the other way around.

There is no doubt that Rafa prefers a defensive approach, which begs the question – why would Abramovic see him as the right man for the job? It is no secret that our owner wants “sexy football”, but the problem is he will definitely not be getting that from Benitez. The Spaniard structures his teams into a very rigid 4-2-3-1 system which is hard to beat, his teams have never had the “wow” factor and aren’t always the most attractive to watch.

Out wide, he prefers a high work ethic over ability, he wants the wide players to keep their defensive positions and protect the full backs at all times. Dirk Kuyt was bought from Feyenoord as an out and out striker, he had netted 71 goals in 101 games for the Dutch club before moving to Liverpool. Benitez moved the natural goalscorer out wide because of his Ramires like work rate; he would run all day for the good of the team, always tracking back and helping out his full back. Riera, who was not the most gifted attacking player by any means, was deployed on the left, again because of his work rate over all else. So expect this to happen at Chelsea, flair and attacking talent will take a back seat whilst industry come to the fore.

With his deeper midfield duo, he always promotes restricting and reducing space between the lines so that it is harder for the opposition’s creative players to operate effectively and pull the strings. He drills the defensive responsibilities into his players so much so that they always know what they should be doing in any situation. Essentially, when defending, he will want his 4-2-3-1 turn into 2 banks of 4, with the wide attacking players dropping back into a rigid defensive shape, looking a lot like a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1, depending on how he wants the counter attacks to progress. Xabi Alonso was perfect for his system, because the Spanish international’s long passing is pretty much immaculate, making setting up counter attacks a fast and precise action, benefiting Torres hugely.

When Rafa thinks his sides are defending to his liking, he then lets them become increasingly more expansive. This usually comes in the 2nd to 3rd season under his management, but I highly doubt he will be here that long, with both Jose and Pep casting huge shadows over the bridge.

What really worries me is his confidence in the zonal marking system. Rafa implements this style of corner defending at all the clubs he manages. We have heard time and time again from pundits such as Gary Neville about how ineffective zonal marking is, due to the fact that the opposition can always jump higher than you with a running start (which I fully agree with). Regardless of what we think of Neville, there is no doubt that he is an excellent pundit and definitely knows what he is talking about. I have to say this is a genuine concern. It didn’t work under Scolari 4 years ago and I cannot see it working now.

Now onto his treatment of the players, and who would know about this better than someone who formerly played under him? This morning, former Liverpool man Stephane Henchoz talked about the way Rafa dealt with his squad on Soccer AM. He said that the 16 players in his immediate plans were well taken care of, they were given an arm around their shoulder and mentored, however the players falling outside of that were treated more unfavourably. He used the words “sat in the corner” to describe the segregation of the first team regulars and the more fringe players. Hopefully, this is an expurgation. If not, this is slightly worrying and we may be seeing players speaking out again like they did when AVB was manager!

Inevitably, we come to Torres.

The former Liverpool striker was definitely a deciding factor in the appointment of Rafa, due to their well documented relationship during their Merseyside days. Looking back at Torres’ time at Liverpool, a big reason he got so much space in the side was because they always played on the counter and the wingers in the 4-2-3-1 were a lot further back – because of the way Rafa set them up. This meant that the opposition full backs had a choice to make – either stay in their positions, or move forward, get closer to the wingers and occupy the space in front of them. Obviously, if there is empty space in front of a full back, they will always occupy it – this gave Torres more space to run into and helped him to split the CBs for the through balls that he loved to run onto. Unfortunately, that burst of pace he once had, that terrified defences, has deserted him now. Over the first 10 yards he isn’t lightning quick as he once was. He now lacks conviction and ability to create a yard and get his shot off (which he used to be so good at).

I’m sorry to say that I honestly cannot see Rafa revitalizing Torres’ career. He will more likely be out of the door by the end of the season, if not in January.

The Positives

- Rafa will give us back that defensive resilience that we were once renowned for .

- He will give us more structure when we defend and also when we attack.

- He will sort out our defensive midfield and issue strict positioning instructions, which is good because the positional awareness has severely lacked in the last month.

- I have no doubt that he will prevent us from leaking goals at the rate we have been during our annual horror November.

- Possibility of improving Torres (however slim it may be).

- He is much better at working with a squad than actually building one himself, and like I said above, he pretty much has a full new squad assembled to tinker with.

- It definitely looks like he will only be here short term.

The Negatives

- Judging by Rafa’s ‘set in stone’ tactics, don’t count on seeing the 3 headed mythological beast MAZACAR for a while, unless of course he feels they have the work-rate and defensive qualities he is looking for.

- It is fairly likely that Ramires, Bertrand and Azpilicueta will be featuring on the wings (square pegs scenario for the umpteenth time).

- Do not expect to see attractive football and big scorelines; we will be grinding out results from now to the end of the season (could be seen as a positive in some respects).

- Zonal marking!

- Torres will be given even more time as first choice, just when we thought he would finally be benched for Sturridge.

- Our creative players’ movement will be restricted somewhat due to the strict structure he gives his teams.

- He never sways from his tactics, or at least he hasn’t in the past. He lives or dies by them and is known for being stubborn when it comes to different tactical approaches, which was perfectly illustrated by his brief stint at Inter Milan.

- All in all, this seems like a step in the wrong direction to what Roman actually wants – “sexy football”.

There are also some potential off-field negative consequences to his appointment:

- No Plastic flags to be given out at the Bridge ever again (I joke guys, I joke).

- In all seriousness, there is a high risk that the fans as a whole will not take to the Spaniard at all. This could cause a big rift between club and fans if not handled perfectly by the club, even more so if Rafa is unsuccessful during his brief tenure.

- Added to the fact that we will have to put up with his fits and constant petty arguments with other coaches, it’s safe to say controversy is rife at the moment as far as CFC are concerned!

Of course, this is only a prediction, judging on all his previous managerial exploits up to now.

Who knows, he may prove me wrong, surprise us all and go for the full on attack!

So Chelsea fans, what is your opinion on this?

- Do you want to see the defensive strategies that Rafa employs?

- Do you not care as long as we win games?

- Do you think he will try something new to “wow” Roman into giving him the job?

We shall get a indication of things to come after the Man City game, that’s for sure!

Article by Martin Smith

Follow me on twitter @MartinSmithCFC

Carefree & KTBFFH!

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Award winning Chelsea Blogger at also blogging on Official Chelsea. Over 30 years supporting our club and tells it exactly as it is!
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