What we learnt at Stamford Bridge
As pretty much expected from his golden days at Liverpool, newly appointed Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez opted for a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation against defending champions Manchester City. The cameras were focused on the 52-year-old Spaniard, who could only guess what the reception could be after the controversial sacking of their favourite home bred son, Roberto Di Matteo.
This was how Chelsea set up:
Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole; Mikel, Ramires, Mata, Oscar, Hazard; Torres
There was a a slightly muted reception for the new manger, with the fans perhaps too confused to react, and unsure of what to expect.
Perhaps the most unwanted caretaker of the Chelsea job since Ian Huntley, Rafa might have noticed various banners signalling the fans’ unwillingness to accept him. Many experts and pundits were eager to see, along with the Stamford Bridge faithful, as to whether he would be able to get their record signing firing again.
Time would perhaps provide the answer.
With the Blues fans chanting “there is only one Di Matteo”, the first chance fell to Pablo Zabaleta. However, the efforts of the Argentine fullback were delightfully quelled by Ashley Cole, of whom rumours are afoot over a potential move to French side Paris Saint-German this January. Every time City passed the ball with a bit of speed or venom, it looked like something might happen, very much so when they are playing against a team who haven’t registered a clean sheet in ten games.
With the City wing backs high up the pitch, Chelsea losing the midfield battle and looking by far too narrow in their own box, it was Zabaleta again who drove his shot against Cech, who managed to maintain the stalemate thanks to his knees. With Mikel and Ramires getting too tight at times and Mata making the runs, Chelsea needed to play higher up the pitch lest they get bogged down. The best chance of the half perhaps fell to Aguero who headed straight at Cech from six yards.
Chelsea had their share of luck, however. Come the second half, whenever Mikel and Ramires defended well and the trio of Mazacar made their runs diagonally, Chelsea looked threatening. However, the lack of a quality striker up front meant there was no one to cross to. Torres did show some enthusiasm, winning a free kick and a corner in quick succession, but it led to nothing.
It will be interesting to see how Rafa uses Torres from the next match onwards, and there will be no lack of support in this Chelsea team. But what they will be able to deliver remains to be seen. As the game wore on and began to look boring at best, Benitez could have thrown a trump card taking off Mikel and letting someone like Marko Marin come on to change the game.
That didn’t happen, maybe because he didn’t want to lose the game.
In the end, there was a lot of negative criticism and a bit of a circumspection on how the match panned out, but Rafa would be happy to see this match off and concentrate on the upcoming games. Perhaps a 4-1-4-1 formation with one holding midfielder in Ramires, and a bit of an attacking instinct in midfield high up the pitch, could rejuvenate Torres and Chelsea’s goalscoring form.
What remains to be seen is whether Rafa is the right man in the wrong job.