This was the first match of new manager ‘Rafa Benitez’, he garbled, without a pause in which fans could voice their opinion. They did so anyway, boos replacing the traditional fanfare. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said the announcer, struggling to be heard. ‘Please, ladies and gentlemen.’ He asked for quiet maybe five times before hurrying out the news of Sexton’s death, with the minute of applause to follow. He sounded desperate.
The unravelling of Di Matteo’s reign at Stamford Bridge owed much to the disarray of his defence, with no clean sheet in their last 10 games and 18 goals conceded in 10 games against teams from the Champions League or the top half of the Premier League. Despite last season’s Champions League success, Di Matteo had started to look like a man without a plan. Interim manager Rafael Benitez is a somewhat strange choice, however, given Abramovich’s preference for attacking football. Benitez is renowned for putting defence first, which is good because that area is in need of urgent attention, although his preference for zonal marking may add to the confusion in the short term.
Welcome to the world of Benitez. Organisation, discipline, tactical plans which are excellent at stopping other teams playing. There were radical changes yesterday to the template which Di Matteo set out for this team at the start of the season. Torres was restored, and an unwell Gary Cahill was left out as David Luiz partnered Ivanovic in the centre of defence.
Top-of-the-table City still had the better chances. David Silva nodded over when he should have scored early on, and Petr Cech saved well from Pablo Zabaleta.
The downside of all the organisation and diligent defending was Chelsea managed just two shots on target throughout the game, the first when Luiz’s low free-kick was saved by Joe Hart. Those sceptical fans are going to want more than that, Rafa! Chelsea did improve. Juan Mata fed Torres 10 yards out and the crowd held its breath…but he fired over. Luiz nodded over and saw another effort deflected wide, and then Cole cracked in a drive that Hart tipped superbly over. But these were mainly breakaways, with City for long periods camped around the Chelsea penalty area, frustrated time and again by a tackle, and quite often a poor final pass.
Right on the whistle, substitute Mario Balotelli raced through, ran straight into Luiz, and was booked for diving. Immovable objects, you see. Rafa loves them.
It was the first time Chelsea have not scored at Stamford Bridge since May 2. Maybe it will change against Fulham on Wednesday, maybe Rafa will have got inside Fernando’s head. The draw moved unbeaten champions Manchester City to within a point of new leaders Manchester United, leaving Chelsea fourth below West Brom Albion with 25 points. But what is certain is that we will be solid in the fixtures to come. Fasten your seatbelts!
- He’s done it again! Geoff Shreeves tells Rafa Benitez the Chelsea fans hate him (101greatgoals.com)
- No winning start for Benitez (skysports.com)
- Why Rafael Benítez may never be accepted by Chelsea fans | Dominic Fifield (guardian.co.uk)
- Benitez vows to win over ‘boo boys’ (iol.co.za)