LONDON: Rafa Benitez just cannot get it right. Chelsea’s 3-1 derby defeat on the opposite side of London by West Ham was not only his first defeat since being rushed in to replace luckless Roberto Di Matteo but extended his ‘record’ to three matches without a win.
The Spaniard is the first boss of the nine-year Roman Abramovich era not to celebrate at least one win in his opening trio of games and the champions of Europe have now gone seven Premier League games without a win.
This is their worst run since 1995 yet, remarkably, they remain third in the table.
Juan Mata struck an early opener after 13 minutes but that proved unlucky timing. Chelsea wasted further chances to extend their lead and were punished by Carlton Cole and substitutes Mohamed Diame and Modibo Maiga.
West Ham had not beaten Chelsea since 2003 and radio phone-in programmes and Chelsea fans’ websites were inundated by a further flood of complaints over the managerial change.
Even Benitez’s satorial choices are wrong. For the midweek goalless home draw against Fulham the former Liverpoolboss had worn an orange tie which attracted vitriol from fans thinking it red.
Benitez has never been a favourite either of West Ham’s Sam Allardyce, another manager with some experience of being an unpopular choice. Allardyce has turned around the original critical opinions of Hammers fans’ with promotion and a solid Premier campaign but, when asked if a manager could succeed in the face of fans’ hostility, answered: “Almost never.”
Before Saturday’s kickoff Benitez had earned grudging credit for having apparently addressed identified a crucial but obvious Chelsea failing in conceding too many goals. But the initial credit built up by the clean sheets in his first two games went out of the window at Upton Park.
Benitez, who had to endure another torrent of abuse from Chelsea’s travelling fans, said: “It’s not easy for me to explain what happened out there today. We didn’t start the second half well. We lost the challenges for the first and second balls, we didn’t use the spaces and we didn’t do enough to win.
“We gave the ball away easily, we weren’t comfortable in possession and we were never in control in the second half. It’s difficult to explain how we could be so good in the first 45 minutes and yet couldn’t manage after the interval.”
In midweek Benitez had sat down with his Chelsea bosses – Abramovich, chairman Bruce Buck, chief executive Ron Gourlay and technical director Michael Emenalo – to present his initial impressions.
He raised two main concerns. The first was that the squad was too thin, meaning too many key players were being overworked; his second point was that the players he did possess were not fit enough anyway for the demands placed upon them in so many competitions
He may think the second-half collapse proved his point.
An unspoken third issue is that Benitez has yet to wave the magic wand which will turn Fernando Torres back into the goal-scoring machine of their Liverpool days together. With Daniel Sturridge expected to leave in January, the pressure is rising all the time for another big transfer splash.
Chelseahave been discussing a bid for Taison, Brazilian forward of Metalist Kharkiv. But if that is merely a cheap way to avoid spending £50m on prising Radamel Falcao away from Atletico de Madrid then it could be just one more example of wasteful short-term thinking and spending.
Benitez, with the title of “interim manager” hanging ominously around his neck, hardly needs any further demonstrations of a lack of confidence in his long-term ability to turn Chelsea around.
He knows it, too. Asked if he could be 100 per cent sure he will survive these early storms, Benitez replied: “No I am not 100 per cent.”
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