Second-half goals from Fernando Torres and Victor Moses ensured that Chelsea avoided an FA Cup upset at Middlesbrough, but it was hardly a morale-boosting win against Championship opposition with just one win in their last eight games
The Blues struggled to impose their class on proceedings for long parts and failed to test Boro keeper Jason Steele until Torres deflected home a Ramires shot just after half-time.
Eden Hazard, Oscar and Moses combined slickly for the second but that was a rare bright spot in another disjointed showing from the ailing European Champions.
Tony Mowbray's injury-hit side never wanted for endeavour but were devoid of quality and only briefly threatened in a late flurry when the game was gone.
The first period was a complete non-event with Chelsea monopolising possession without unduly troubling the Boro back line and only Nathan Ake impressed on his first senior start.
The 18-year-old Dutch midfielder lined up alongside Ramires in the base of Chelsea's midfield and gave an assured display, winning plenty of loose balls and distributing it with a confidence and composure not entirely apparent from his more established teammates.
Torres had yet another torrid night and even his "goal" owed little to any tangible skill as Ramires' strike from 20 yards glanced the Spaniards shoulder before nestling in the net.
Aside from that, the £50 million man was at best very bad, and contributed next to nothing against a struggling side who have been tumbling down the Championship since the turn of the year.
But Torres wasn't alone and Rafa Benitez will face further inquisitions ahead of Saturday's visit of West Brom––not least about his team selection and substitutions once again.
The inclusion of Ake was justified but his preference for Yossi Benayoun over Marko Marin will take some explaining away and once again Demba Ba didn't get any action whilst Torres toiled.
The Benayoun selection in particular made little sense as the 32-year-old seems to have no future at Stamford Bridge passed the summer, whereas Marin has impressed in fleeting appearances as of late and is nine years the Israeli international's junior.
After Chelsea had gone a couple of goals to the good, there was an opportunity for Ba to end a seven-game goal drought but Benitez declined in favour of giving Torres the full 90.
After scoring three times in his first three starts for the club, Ba has been used sparingly with Benitez somehow managing to play one of the Premier League's most dangerous strikers out of form.
Along with Ba, Juan Mata, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta all played no part and one waits with baited breath to see what Benitez's next trick will be for the West Brom game at the weekend.
Certainly an improvement on this show will be required if the Blues are to pick up a vital three points in their quest for a top four finish, but four months after Benitez's interim appointment, will he be able to instigate the necessary response?
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