Chelsea are on the verge of playing a tough fixture against Basel in the Europa League semi-finals and another exit out of yet another competition could mean this was more than a disastrous season for the blues due to accumulated bad management throughout the years.
Where do Chelsea stand? Roman Abramovich’s money supply has been aiding Chelsea a lot since his takeover in June 2003. Under the Abramovich Chelsea won three Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups and a Champions League trophy. Nine trophies in ten years is something any fan should be proud of, but couldn’t Chelsea have won much more had Roman taken the right choices?
The Russian millionaire confirmed Roberto Di Matteo as Chelsea both after the Champions League triumph in hopes of a successful Premier League campaign. Di Matteo was expected to change the Blues’ style of play to a more attacking one with the presence of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Marko Marin. The attacking performance of Chelsea seemed to work well as the season commenced but as bigger teams lined-up to play Chelsea they found a disconnected team vulnerable at the back. The Italian was sacked as he was incompetent in balancing the team.
Chelsea appointed Rafael Benitez during the season to replace Roberto Di Matteo as an interim coach in hopes of signing Guardiola for next season. The appointment of Benitez looked good for Abramovich, if he succeeds in steering Chelsea anywhere, Roman would take credit for it. If Rafa failed, he will leave the club when summer comes and Roman has fed the fans yet another excuse for another season. Bayern Munich secured Pep Guardiola’s services and Chelsea found themselves in a bit of mess. The fans did not accept Rafa as he had a rivalry with Jose Mourinho back when the latter was still in charge of Chelsea and Rafa did not help his cause after failing in seven competitions. Moreover, many regarded his appointment as a chance for Fernando Torres to return to his Liverpool form, Torres improved yet he did not reach the heights he reached many years ago.
Benitez proceeded into fixing what needs to be fixed, firstly he addressed the problem on the flans, the full backs were pressing too much and the wingers were not doing any defensive work which left Chelsea exposed on the flanks. Benitez quickly gave defensive instructions to his two full backs and placed the wingers on the same line as with the two midfielders who are playing in front of the center-backs transforming the 4-2-3-1 into a 4-4-1-1. The Blues became playing more of a zonal defensive play rather than individual marking which required a lot of chemistry between the players and coordination. Hazard, Mata and Oscar was a trio of individual playmakers often squeezing themselves out of play as they did not move cohesively, the trio was dropped into a duo and there was a rotational basis of two being in the starting lineup while one remained as an additional option on the bench. Nevertheless, the pressure was always on him for dropping one of them moreover the players did not take their time to settle into the new compact mentality players such as Hazard and Oscar need to be playing in free roles to express their speed and flair yet they were denied this under Rafa.
Rafael Benitez did not succeed naturally in such conditions where the club is governed by a scandalous player in the name of John Terry, while most of the players had no time to adapt to a new style of play or even the coach did not have the right player to put his philosophy in practice. Rafa knew he was not going to lose anything from this experience but he also should have known he couldn’t have done anything better.
Many coaches have come and gone while the situation still looks the same, a squad of individuals playing collectively without a true leader; Roman always gave the trust to the players that cost him millions every year rather than to the person managing them. John Terry and Frank Lampard were obstacles in front of managers who tried to give Chelsea an identity such as Andre Villas Boas. The existence of players who have bigger word than their manager is a disaster waiting to happen. Nevertheless, Roman has always found the way out by giving his team a fresh new start with a new manager every few months and some multi-million signings that can win matches on their own. New financial fair play rules might stand in the way of Chelsea bailing themselves out, the big Russian needs to understand that a manager given the ultimate power and the complete trust for a long term period is the right solution if Chelsea are to return to competing with the two Manchester who seem to be breaking away from the rest of the Premier League season after season.