What Chelsea Manager Rafa Benitez Got Right and Wrong Against Manchester City
There have been several criticisms about Rafa Benitez's rather unpopular appointment at Chelsea. None have been more fierce than that of the fans, opting to boo the Spaniard every time the Blues set out onto the pitch.
Originally, pundits in the game said the booing was unhealthy and showed a lack of unity, and I was one of the first to agree. Let Benitez have a chance, let him prove us wrong.
That's what I thought too, with some hope that the former Liverpool manager could salvage something from the Blues' season after the popular Roberto Di Matteo was ruthlessly axed.
Unfortunately, it seems like Roman Abramovich's run of appointing successful interim managers is coming to an abrupt end.
Chelsea's below-par performance in the 1-1 draw at home to Sparta Prague was a clear indication of just how far the Blues have fallen, from the dizzying heights of winning the Champions League to struggling against a club who didn't even win their own domestic league.
The performance may have been poor, but Eden Hazard's brilliant cameo, producing a stunning late strike to send Chelsea through, spared Benitez's blushes on Thursday night.
And in the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City on Sunday, Hazard was lively again, causing Pablo Zabaleta, one of City's best players this season, all sorts of problems with the Argentina international living dangerously on a yellow card.
Yet, when Chelsea fell behind to a neat Yaya Toure finish, it wasn't Ramires, having a poor game on the right wing and in danger of being handed a red card, whose number was held up on the fourth official's board.
Rather frustratingly for any Blues fan, it was one of Chelsea's most threatening players who was sacrificed. I think you can guess who was withdrawn instead, right?
Well, for those who aren't too bright, it was indeed the young Belgian, Hazard, who was substituted. And he wasn't happy, which is unusual to see with the 22-year-old, who usually accepts the decision to bring him off without any real objection.
As he walked off the pitch, he was muttering words under his breath. Whether it was French or English, that doesn't matter.
He didn't storm down the tunnel, but equally, his dismay was there for everyone to see. And it symbolized something very important; something that usually signals the end of a manager's tenure at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard's body language suggested he didn't trust the decision by Benitez to bring him off. When a player as professional as Hazard shows that lack of trust in his manager, it means it could be curtains for Benitez.
But it gets worse.
Again, Ramires was spared as Frank Lampard was withdrawn. To take off Hazard is one thing, but to haul off Lampard just 10 minutes or so after his penalty was brilliantly saved by Joe Hart is just unacceptable.
Both players are match winners, and have done it time and time again for the club this season. On the other hand, the players who replaced them have been experiencing indifferent form.
Brazilian playmaker Oscar's best form has been in Europe with six goals, but his Premier League showings have been inconsistent, while Victor Moses has only just returned from the African Cup of Nations, where he featured in every game.
Lampard, scorer of 11 goals in 19 Premier League games this season, was not having his best game, but as shown in the 3-2 defeat to Newcastle, he can score from anywhere at any time.
And the expression of his face was one even more significant than Hazard's; almost like he is resigned to leaving the club, with his efforts of helping the club not recognized by the tactical stubbornness of Benitez.
To put this game in context, the only bright point of a dark day for Benitez was playing Gary Cahill, and that's because the England international put his body in front of absolutely everything. Then again, John Terry, left on the bench, could have done exactly the same.
Apart from that, the only other thing he got right today was getting to the stadium.
The fans called once again for Rafa's head today, and with all due respect to Benitez, they were certainly entitled to.
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