It’s hard to imagine how gloomy the situation would have been if Rafa Benitez wouldn’t have made the changed that he did early in the second half, and Chelsea wouldn’t have forced a replay. But Eden Hazard did come on, and Juan Mata did play wonderful football, and eventually, there were a few centimeters away from a huge win.
Rotation is the word at the moment. Rafa’s rotations. The man Chelsea and Manchester United fans aligned against together for an afternoon, because… no one really knows why. Alex Ferguson hold a deep grudge towards Benitez for some reason, as he always does to men who don’t suck up to him before matches. The Chelsea fans that banter against him? They decided long ago that Benitez is the wrong man for the job, and nothing he’ll do will change their minds.
Maybe the most important decision Benitez made during the match was subbing off Frank Lampard, in another terrible display of anything that has nothing to do with goals (and he wasn’t even close to scoring) and bringing on John Obi Mikel for him. Mikel isn’t turning out to be the next Essien, but he’s the best option Chelsea have had for the last couple of years in the middle of the park as a defensive option, and it made the second half blitz and a more confident side to counter attack by his presence, also giving Ramires a chance to show just how lethal he is when he doesn’t have to deal with build up, only finishing, using his speed.
Right now, no one really knows when the replay will be played. Chelsea might end up playing more than 70 matches when this season is over, with Europa League burdens to try and plow through. The league? There’s that as well, almost lost amid the fog of Cup matches and European fixtures. Chelsea still have a five point lead over Arsenal in their claim for the final Champions League spot, but with so many matches to address, Rafa Benitez doesn’t really have a chance to play his strongest lineup for more than 40-45 minutes at a time.
Eden Hazard continues to show just how special he is, when he’s playing in the right position. The more fluid formation in the second half, without real designations of winger and positioning made Chelsea look so much better. The Manchester United midfield and fullbacks were falling off their feet, or simply not playing well, you choose the real answer, giving Juan Mata, Ramires, Fernando Torres and Eden Hazard plenty of space to operate in, which Hazard made the most of with a brilliant goal. If only Torres wouldn’t have been the walking shadow he is now, Chelsea might have been walking off with an impressive win of more than one goal.
Rafa Benitez has a good side, but a short squad, which can’t cope with all the missions it has to undertake. By trying to capture everything at once, all might be lost in the end – Chelsea still have to play United in the replay, Steaua in the second leg and Tottenham, Liverpool (away), Manchester United (away) and Everton before this weird season is over. Spreading the focus across everything might a recipe for a downfall, although Benitez doesn’t really have anything to lose.