Rafa Benitez to Chelsea: 7 Predictions for His Reign at Stamford Bridge
It is official. Roman Abramovich has finished with his "eeny-meeny-miny-moe(ing)" and the pointer of the game that he was gifted as a child has landed at Rafael Benitez (h/t BBC).
And now to get serious, which is actually hard with Abramovich seemingly treating everything as a joke himself.
Following Roberto Di Matteo's unceremonious dismissal as Chelsea boss earlier on Wednesday, the Blues have opted for the former Inter Milan, Liverpool and Valencia manager in Benitez. Di Matteo was sacked after the Blues lost 3-0 to Juventus in Turin, leaving their hopes of qualifying for the next round in the Champions League doubtful.
Was Abramovich expecting back-to-back Champions League titles from Roberto Di Matteo when no one in history has managed to achieve it so far? Abramovich certainly does not seem someone who would say that a "good run" would satisfy him. It was always "win or bust." Then the decision does seem odd, though that is a discussion for another article.
For the time being, we are looking at what life back in the managerial hot seat can see Benitez achieve with Chelsea.
Here are seven predictions, each meant to be taken with a pinch of salt, that I have come up with for the new manager of Chelsea—Rafael Benitez.
The Boos and Manchester City
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As most of you would know by now, the appointment of Mr. Benitez is by no means a popular one amongst the Chelsea faithful. As a Liverpool fan, that does baffle me more than just a little.
You are talking about a manager that got Valencia to win something ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona by playing some sublime football on their way. And by sublime, I do not mean the one that was played by Roberto Di Matteo's side on its way to winning the Champions League.
I have heard of "death by football." Well, Di Matteo did achieve that for the fans last season even though in a sense contrary to its intended meaning.
What adds to Rafa's uphill battle is that his first task is to face a wounded Manchester City, who are out of the Champions League but still sit top of the table in the English Premier League, at home in front of what will presumably be a less-than-interested crowd.
Rafa does not have much time to influence this one, but I think he will outsmart Roberto Mancini and his Manchester City. 1–0 to Chelsea for me and maybe some signs of the boos evaporating into smiles if the fans aren't as arrogant as Roman Abramovich.
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Benitez knows better than most how to use Fernando Torres. It may not be rocket-science but others have just failed to get the sort of output you would expect from the current No. 9 of Chelsea.
There have been claims that Torres just isn't his former self. Well, I will believe it if Rafa struggles to find something valuable that Torres can add to Chelsea's attack. Till then, the jury is out for me.
Destiny would have it that Torres scores the winning goal this Sunday at Stamford Bridge. If that were to happen, Torres would surely be a hero (again) in the eyes of the Chelsea faithful, who had recently started booing him.
I am not anyone to judge here, but that sort of fickle attitude just typifies most of the modern fans, including Abramovich.
Champions League: Matchday 6
Chelsea will win against Nordsjaelland all right, but unfortunately I don't think Juventus will get beaten in Ukraine against Shakhtar Donetsk. They are Italians after all, and knowing that a draw will do for them just plays into their hands and playing style.
Had Juventus needed to win in Ukraine, it would have been an altogether different story. It will be a pity really because Benitez is one person you can bank on to succeed in European competition if not the League.
Chelsea to go out of the Champions League after getting a consolation win that may be of a really big margin considering their fire power, home game, level of opposition and Benitez's opportunity in the only game he might get in this season's Champions League.
The Defense and David Luiz
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Chelsea were quick off the blocks this season in the league. They were scoring at will without too much emphasis on defense, as mistakes lead to a good percentage of the goals that they conceded.
Unfortunately, the goals upfront dried up and the defensive mistakes started proving costly. Even in games they scored two (against Manchester United), they lost. Benitez will certainly start addressing that in his reign.
I also think that David Luiz will become a better player or play in a new position or maybe even both. If Rafa can sort Luiz's defensive abilities it will give Chelsea more options and the provision to make Luiz a versatile player.
With Chelsea's millions and squad depth they certainly don't need a utility player, but it is always nice for a manager to have someone with the kind of ability on the ball that Luiz possesses on the field.
Mata, Hazard and Oscar
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Chelsea have a triumvirate that any team in the world will envy in Oscar, Mata and Hazard. Benitez will undoubtedly want to use all three simultaneously to form a lethal attack. However, Benitez also has his way of doing things which is maintaining a fine balance between defense and offense.
Unless all three of them start putting more effort towards the defensive side of the game, I don't think they will start together week in week out. Oscar in particular is a big liability when it comes to working for the team when you don't have the ball with there being countless occasions on which he has let a person from the opposition run free.
This aspect of Benitez's tactics will be really interesting to notice. This is surely one of the things where the Spanish tactician earns his paycheck.
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Come May 2013, what do fans think will happen? I think they might be in for a surprise. I actually predict that Chelsea will be champions and what is more, this will not be achieved in the final weeks.
I think that Chelsea will have the title wrapped up by April itself. This is not because I am an ardent supporter of Rafa but because I feel that Chelsea will be a real juggernaut from now onward in the League.
Without the distraction of the Champions League, the Blues will be even more dangerous. Manchester United will have European distractions and Manchester City will fight it out with Chelsea for the title till the penultimate stages of the league.
City are still favorites for me, but Chelsea have been doing what they have done so far without Torres firing on all cylinders. Expect Chelsea to distance themselves from the chasing pack by January's end if Torres starts doing for Benitez what he used to at Liverpool.
The "Roman" New Year: The Sack
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And then there will be the dreaded sack. News will go like this:
"Chelsea have parted with their manager Rafa Benitez just two months after instating him as permanent manager from being an interim manager last season. People in Hollywood are contemplating making a sequel for the movie Deja Vu with Rafael Benitez and Roberto Di Matteo playing the protagonists."
This is what Roman Abramovich had to say:
"When you pay 50 million pounds for a striker, you play him. Not only did he not play but he was neither on the bench. The manager did not take him to Camp Nou even. Huh, ridiculous!"
On being asked whether he had thought over his decision before making it, considering that Chelsea actually won 2–0 away at Barcelona, this is what the Chelsea owner said:
"Of course. Do you think I am so rich by fluke? 2–0 is just not good enough for me. I want my team to be the best. And they were just playing Barcelona and that too away. I think my investment on world class players deserves better."
When Benitez was asked about Torres's situation, his reply was:
"When a player breaks his leg and I have announced it in the press conference also that he will be out for the season, I think people should understand that a player will not play."
On this, Mr.Abramovich said:
"Well, he didn't say 'Fact' at the end. Not my fault."
Getting back to the current climate, I think this is very probable, apart from the humor and sarcasm, of course. Benitez will eventually get the sack because you just cannot win everything, and Roman's expectations will eventually become close to that.
Kindly be advised that each and every prediction and statement be taken in good spirit and with a pinch of salt. Feel free to opine in the comments below.