It’s obvious that Chelsea’s old adversary taking over as manager is not welcomed by the Chelsea contingent. Just listen again to the reception Rafa Benitez received during his first match in charge against Manchester City. Yet, although harsh and seemingly unwarranted after only 3 games in charge, the opinion of the Chelsea faithful may be glaringly true. To the objective amongst us there was always a sense of Benitez not being a good fit for the London side for a number of reasons. Personality of both the new manager and the chairman, a man in Benitez who stubbornly wants his own way clashing with a man in Abramovich who will not be told what to do, the situation in which the appointment is clearly just a stop gap for the obligatory summer chasing of Pep Guardiola and the inevitable anger towards the Spaniard from the terraces. However, it is not for any of these reasons that the side are struggling at the moment but more for the playing style of Benitez’s side.
It is plain to see throughout the years that all of Benitez’s sides are teams which are based on a solid foundation; a good defensive comes first with an effective attack built from the back generally through quick, counter attacking football. Chelsea are no exception to this pattern. Against Manchester City, Benitez’s first game in charge, Chelsea made no defensive errors, made 21 interceptions, won 51 per cent of their ground duels and had a 79 per cent tackle success rate. To put this in perspective City were limited to 8 shots and only created 1 clear cut chance, their average for the season being 13.4 shots and 1.8 clear cut chances created per game.
The same can be seen again in the match against Fulham. There were 0 defensive errors made, Chelsea had a tackle success rate of 78.5 per cent and successfully broke up the play in the defensive and midfield third a total of 44 times. As a result, Fulham created 6 chances, only 1 of which was a clear cut chance, and averaged 23.5 minutes per shot on goal. Compared to their last game under Di Matteo, which Chelsea lost 2-1 to West Brom, the Baggies created the same amount of clear cut chances against the Chelsea defense and double the amount of goals scored in one game than in Benitez’s first 2 games in charge.
However, the problem is not in Benitez’s obvious need to steady the defence which had been conceding an unnerving amount of goals under Di Matteo, but in the need to concentrate on a more balanced style of play as at the moment they are too heavily based around their defence which is having an adverse effect on other aspects of their game.
Chelsea’s passing in the past 3 games has not been up to the standard of a top Premiership side and it is due to this, and inevitably their new style of play, that they have failed to get the results they should have since the ex-Liverpool managers employment.
As a more defensive team, Chelsea’s passing has become more probing but less threatening than under Di Matteo; against City, Fulham and West Ham Chelsea made a total of 226, 427 and 173 attacking zone passes only completing a total of 66 per cent, 73 per cent and 74 per cent respectively, creating only 2 clear cut chances and scoring 1 goal. For all Chelsea’s inconsistencies at the back under the Italian the team’s natural attacking flair was never blunted, scoring 24 goals in 12 games, an average of 2 goals per game.
Under Benitez Chelsea are happy to keep hold of the ball and play at the back or in the midfield, but when it comes to the more attacking zones they have been found wanting. Again taking the City game as an example, Chelsea passed the ball forward only 36 per cent of time either passing the ball backwards or sideward a majority 64 per cent of the time.
Even against Fulham and West Ham, lesser teams than the champions Man City, Chelsea passed the ball forward 30 per cent and 32 per cent of the time respectively. As a result, they are not getting the ball to the attacking players enough in the game and therefore their ability to create chances is automatically lessened.
Chelsea’s inability to the use the ball effectively is then compromising their ability to create chances and score goals, and as a result their attack is suffering.
Not passing the ball forward or quickly enough to the most creative members of the team not only effects their ability to create goals but also to score goals as strikers such as Torres, as seen in his former Liverpool days, feed off the likes of quick, clever, direct passes from the likes of Mata, Hazard or Moses. In Rafa’s system if the ball is not getting from defense to the final third of the pitch in the blink of an eye, by-passing the centre of midfield completely, the whole structure breaks down as the opposing defense is able to drop deeper cutting off Torres’s space in behind and forcing the Chelsea attack into playing short balls in and around the 18 yard box with Torres’s back to goal, negating his attacking ability completely. As a result of Chelsea’s inability to pass the ball forward or effectively enough, Chelsea have only created 2 clear cut chances in Benitez’s 3 games and in these games Mata, who averages 2.6 chances and 1.2 clear cut chances created per game this season, has only created 2.5 chances and 0.5 clear cut chances in his 2 games he has played while Torres has had only 1 clear cut chance to score.
Chelsea either need to adapt to Benitez’s system quickly or Benitez needs to change his methods to allow for a more balanced, composed side that are not built entirely around a solid back four otherwise the Spaniard may be out of a job long before the summer.
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