While Chelsea were pretty bad during the final days of Roberto Di Matteo, they’ve turned into simply boring during the short tenure of Rafa Benitez. Two matches, two 0-0 draws. Eden Hazard, the sensation of the early days of the season, seems to be lost and drowning in the anti-football Chelsea are producing.
Benitez loves his teams solid defensively, with a very physical midfield, anchoring the players up front. It was that way in Valencia, winning two La Liga titles; it was the same with Liverpool, most of the time. It may not have been the flashiest of styles, but it got the team to two Champions League finals, This Chelsea side he was picked to work with isn’t the kind of team that fits the Benitez mold.
The confidence in defense is shot, and that’s even before Benitez has begun his famous rotation. Well he has, up front at least, as Juan Mata had to wait till the 63rd minute to come in. Meanwhile, Eden Hazard and Oscar found it very hard to create chances for the depressing and depressed Fernando Torres, who failed with the couple of chances he was handed. On the other side, Fulham opted counter attack, but looked much more dangerous each time Dimitar Berbatov got a little bit of space to conjure up something with.
And how about that strong and physical midfield? Ramires and Oriol Romeu aren’t going to be a foundation to build on. Romeu has hardly played this season while Ramires keeps proving he knows how to do a lot of things on the football pitch, but being a solid and dependable rock in the middle of the pitch isn’t it.
Width is something Ramires is more comfortable with, but only Di Matteo, late last season, gave the Brazilian the option of playing on the wing, which created quite a few big goals for him along the way – In the Champions League against Barcelona (twice) and vs Liverpool in the FA Cup final. Looking at the wings gave you a view of the grass. Both Hazard and Oscar keep venturing to the middle, while Ryan Bertrand didn’t really provide an option down the left. Juan Mata coming in for the young Englishman didn’t really bring a change to the match.
For now, the options of Victor Moses and Marko Marin are left on the bench. Marin did get to play for 8 minutes instead of Hazard, but had a forgettable cameo. The link between a bad striker, a soft midfield and an uncomfortable defense is too strong to shake. Benitez got to the team just as their luck of a fantastic start was running out, and now he has to start dealing with the real problems on this squad.
And he won’t be able to succeed without those of true talent, who have been playing well until now despite the faults around them, stepping up and showing the way. Juan Mata and Hazard were wonderful until November began, but have slipped into a degenerative state, just like the squad around them. Benitez needs them to be what Steven Gerrard was for him during his seasons at Anfield; those seasons that make him inadequate to manage Chelsea according to a huge chunk of the Blues supporters.