Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blues Are at a Crossroads but Don't Know Which Way to Turn; Fans Chanted, 'We Want Our Chelsea Back' but Giving the Team a New Identity Is the Big Task for Rafael Benitez. by James Olley

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blues Are at a Crossroads but Don't Know Which Way to Turn; Fans Chanted, 'We Want Our Chelsea Back' but Giving the Team a New Identity Is the Big Task for Rafael Benitez. by James Olley

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley

CHELSEA 0 FULHAM 0 CHELSEA are going through an identity crisis. The owner's agenda, the longterm managerial picture and the team's style of play are all uncertain.

The club should be buoyant after a maiden Champions League success and a summer investment in several talented players. History was made in Munich and the building blocks of a new side have been laid at considerable cost.

The club on King's Road should be revelling in their status as Kings of Europe. There were several halfhearted mentions of that pre-eminence last night but how quickly the prevailing mood has changed.

"We want our Chelsea back," sang the Matthew Harding Stand in the dying throes of a dismal draw last night. The atmosphere was less poisonous than against Manchester City three days earlier but this sentiment was new. It was the closest Stamford Bridge has come in years -- perhaps ever -- to questioning Roman Abramovich. Which Chelsea would they like to see? The pre-Abramovich side that last won the title in 1955? Roberto di Matteo's free-flowing team that conceded nearly 26 points from is CHELSEA's return in Abramovich as often as they scored? Perhaps they want something akin to the Jose Mourinho side who were, for a time, the envy of all in English football.

Each manager since has tried to revive that spirit but as that team's component parts age, Chelsea need to build a new side with a new identity. The absence of John Terry and Frank Lampard through injury combined with Didier Drogba's departure adds to the notion of a void that needs filling.

The team are in transition and require leadership but Abramovich continues his public silence while employing a manager who has no mandate to affect lasting change. The garbled handling of Terry's racial abuse case and the Mark Clattenburg controversy provides another facet to the sense of a club struggling with their sense of direction. Fans have long since accepted their team would not be where they are without Abramovich but replacing the popular Di Matteo with Rafael Benitez is a brutal reminder the club's hierarchy place no significant value on their opinion.

They don't identify with Benitez. Successive clean sheets after 10 games without one are a positive sign that the Spaniard is tightening up the team defensively, while Cesar Azpilicueta impressed again at right-back. But, at the moment, Chelsea have sacrificed too much fluency going forward.

26 Benitez needs to find a better balance and secure results quickly because positivity is in short supply. Chelsea's last Premier League victory came at Tottenham on October 20. The Blues lie third in the table, seven points behind leaders Manchester 14 games worst Roman era United at what is still a recoverable stage but these are troubled times and a lack of entertainment for the second time in a week does not help. …

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