Chelsea’s turnaround under Benitez
The past couple of months at the Chelsea Football Club has been a flurry of news, events and changes. Club legend Robbie Di Matteo has been fired in the midst of a minor slump in results which left the club divided and in turmoil.
RDM’s only blemish so far had been missing out on the UEFA Super Cup and Community Shield, which were basically glorified pre-season one off games.
Chelsea had been leading the league up until RDM’s departure and although the club was defeated by Juventus by a score of 3 goals to 0, Champions League progression was still a distinct possibility. So it was a massive shock when RDM was sacked the day after the defeat in Turin.
Naturally there was a backlash, and boy was it big. Chelsea fans turned on Roman Abramovich, protests about Rafa Benitez began and continued well into the weeks ahead.
Signs could clearly be seen at Stamford Bridge saying ‘Rafa Out’ and ‘RDM: Chelsea Legend’ during the first game of Rafa’s reign. Talk shows such as ESPN Press Pass and Fox Soccer were giving their presenters leeway to verbally blast Chelsea’s management.
The Daily Mail at one stage had an article slamming the football club up every few hours.
But in the midst of all this commotion there were players trying to cope and adapt to the latest managerial transition.
Immediately after Benitez was appointed, theories were thought up, mainly saying that Fernando Torres’ lack of goals was the reason why Benitez was appointed.
This in turn put unwarranted criticism on both Torres and Benitez. Rafa was booed by Chelsea fans simply because of the fact that he had once been a manger of a rival team. It is this type of simple minded, childish tribalism by fans that had turned Chelsea into the butt of most football jokes, despite the fact that they were defending champions of Europe.
For instance Jose Mourinho worked as a translator for Barcelona in his youth, however that did not stop Real Madrid from signing him up years later.
Rafa’s first game ended in a bland 0-0 stalemate against defending EPL champions Manchester City. This was a solid result considering the club were supposedly in turmoil.
Goals were still an issue at that time. Then there was another 0-0 draw with Fulham at home, a game Chelsea should have won.
The criticism continued, even though the Blues had not conceded a goal in 180 minutes without John Terry.
Then came the 3-1 defeat to West Ham United. That was certainly the time to be upset. The team got overrun in the second half. However the coach should not cop all the blame – the players were the ones that ran out there and conceded the result.
The calls to sack Rafa were heating up. This is where the fans’ logic got to the stage of borderline mental.
Could these ‘fans’ tell me when a club has ever sacked another manager weeks after sacking the previous? These people could not grow up and realise no matter how much we loved having RDM as coach, that he would not be rehired by Roman, so it was time to look forward regardless of the consequences.
Champions League Matchday six arrived, the must win game against FC Nordsjaelland of Denmark was on. Chelsea had to win this game and hope that Shakhtar Donetsk defeated Juventus at home in order to progress to the knockout stages.
The game began with both sides having scoring chances, and Eden Hazard missing a penalty as well as a Nordsjaelland striker. Chelsea then received another penalty and David Luiz made no mistake, much like that famous night in Munich.
Once Chelsea had the pre-game jitters out of their system, the rout started and ended with Torres grabbing a brace and an overall scoreline of 6-1.
If only goal difference was still used, then Chelsea would have been through.
It turned out that Shakhtar had butchered their game against Juventus which resulted in Juve topping the group and Chelsea falling to third and the Europa League for the first time.
This time the Rafa haters could say nothing bad: we had won our game in style and the only reason we dropped down was due to circumstances beyond our control.
Suddenly the light at the end of the tunnel was visible. After a solid 3-1 away win to Sunderland in which Torres grabbed another goal, the FIFA Club World Cup was up next and the first game against Monterrey was a walkthrough, the final against Corinthians was back to the bad old days of missed opportunities which cost Chelsea the chance of being world champions.
Back to the Capital One Cup after a long flight from Japan and a game away to Leeds beckoned. A sloppy start had us down 1-0 at the break, and then we snapped out of it and played to our potential, scoring five second half goals (which netted me a nice profit).
The next game was a pre-Christmas home game against Aston Villa at the Bridge, where suddenly everything clicked again. Over the entire 90 minutes Chelsea fired eight goals against Aston Villa with David Luiz playing exceptionally in midfield and hitting a goal that would make Cristiano Ronaldo jealous.
Finally, pulling the trigger on Luiz in the midfield was a masterstroke by Bentiez and is probably a benefit of having a manager with nothing to lose who can make radical change without fear.
Torres once again opened the scoring with a sublime header which brought back memories of his Liverpool heyday. Moses, Hazard, Oscar and Ramires rounded the game up to deliver the best scoreline and win of the Premier League this season.
After a win against Norwich City, Chelsea are nipping at Man City’s heels in the Premier League, within striking distance of the title.
After the initial resistance, Chelsea fans should be happy with the way Rafa has the team performing, and some of the coaching decisions he has had to make, especially regarding Luiz.
All in all it has been a wild and bumpy few months for Chelsea. As a fan I wouldn’t have it any other way.