Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Under-Fire Rafa's on the Back Foot before He Can Take a Step Forward; Solving His Team's Defensive Problems Is More of a Priority Than Entertaining Football for Chelsea's New Manager

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Under-Fire Rafa's on the Back Foot before He Can Take a Step Forward; Solving His Team's Defensive Problems Is More of a Priority Than Entertaining Football for Chelsea's New Manager

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley Chief Football Correspondent

chelsea 0 man city 0 James Olley Chief Football Correspondent CHELSEA are a club in turmoil, with mutinous anger seeping from the stands over the appointment of Rafael Benitez. But despite such vitriolic introspection, the Spaniard will not try to win over the supporters with all-out attack and instead do what all new managers do and build from the back.

There are three strands to the task Benitez faces, with two of them decidedly more crowd-pleasing than the other -- reviving an utterly beleaguered Fernando Torres and finding a fusion of successful and stylish football.

Neither happened against Manchester City yesterday. The game was a dour affair desperately short on quality and lacking the usual intensity of clashes between Premier League title rivals.

But then Benitez had less than 72 hours to work with his new charges and then implement them effectively against last season's Premier League champions. Anyone expecting a continuation of Roberto di Matteo's kamikaze approach was deluded -- injecting creativity and re-energising a player as lost as Torres are longer-term targets.

As City boss Roberto Mancini succinctly suggested: "I don't think that Rafa is a magician. I don't think he can change everything in a few days."

Benitez is renowned for his meticulous organisation and it was only logical he would begin with the third task -- instilling greater defensive stability in a side that developed a kamikaze style under Roberto di Matteo.

The former Liverpool boss may have sacrificed entertainment in the process and swung the balance of their approach too far in favour of caution on this occasion but a first clean sheet in 11 matches must be considered process.

City were marginally the better side but they failed to create anything of note besides Sergio Aguero's clear-cut headed chance just before half-time.

In terms of defensive organisation, this Chelsea team were unrecognisable from the shambles dismantled by Juventus in Turin. John Obi Mikel and Ramires were more diligent in their midfield duties shielding a back four that looked far more compact with Branislav Ivanovic partnering David Luiz at centre-half with the promising Spaniard Cesar Apilicueta at right-back. Ivanovic and Luiz were never paired together under Di Matteo and although Benitez admitted he had little alternatives, with Gary Cahill suffering a fever and John Terry injured, the resilience displayed in repelling City was not the consequence of blindly stumbling on an effective defensive pairing.

Chelsea sat deep and looked to hit City on the break. City ultimately tried similar tactics, hence the lack of a consistent flow to the match. Benitez set up his team not to concede and try to nick a goal. Di Matteo's plan last season, upon taking over as interim manager, was to do the same in light of Andre Villas-Boas's alarmingly open style and that was accepted by the Chelsea faithful. …

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