Tactics Talk: Will Benitez embrace a new style of play at Chelsea which includes Mata, Hazard and Oscar ?
Forget his previous run-ins with Jose Mourinho while Liverpool boss. Forget his criticism of the Chelsea support. Forget his pledge in 2007 that he would ‘never’ take the Chelsea job. What all those at Chelsea must worry about is what kind of team Rafa Benitez will build in the short six months he has as interim boss at Stamford Bridge.
Promising to deliver trophies is no doubt music to the ears of his new employers, but it’s how he does it which will gauge just how successful the former Inter Milan, Liverpool and Valencia boss will be. Roberto Di Matteo was cruelly sacked after 262 days in charge – a spell which saw the South London club become European and FA Cup champions. It’s certainly a big part of the Chelsea manager’s remit, but winning trophies isn’t everything. Something Benitez knows already.
“The information I have is, the owner likes to see his team playing good football. He is not involved every day, telling the manager he has to do this or that.”
The demands of Roman Abramovich seem clear. Win trophies, but do it the right way. The Russian oligarch has been striving to achieve a ‘Chelsea’ way of playing since he took over the club in 2003. Well-publicised attempts have been made to tempt Pep Guardiola to the club – first in the summer and in the last few weeks – and it’s Abramovich’s admiration for the way Barcelona have set about dominating football over the last five years which explains most why he’s failed to settle on a consistent manager.
Di Matteo won the Champions League with a pragmatic style based heavily on playing with men behind the ball. A controversial summer saw Abramovich finally settle on the Italian as full-time boss before the arrival of Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Oscar and Victor Moses signalled the club’s new attacking intent.
The former West Brom boss ushered in the change and for a while Chelsea were entertaining as Premier League leaders, safe in the Champions League and still in all domestic competitions. A run of one win in eight games quickly changed that and it now brings us to the controversial appointment of Rafa Benitez.
Considerable focus has been placed on the relationship between the Spaniard and a certain misfiring Chelsea striker. Fernando Torres was arguably the best striker in the world during his three and a half year spell at Anfield. Benitez persuaded the young Atletico Madrid man to move from the humble surroundings of home to one of the biggest clubs in the world and his 56 goal return in 79 appearances ensured Liverpool was the most prolific period in Torres’ career. So if anyone can bring El Nino back to his best then surely it’s the man who helped make him?
It doesn’t seem quite as easy as putting a shoulder around the sulky Spaniard. Carlo Ancelotti, Andre-Vilas Boas and Di Matteo all tried and failed to inspire. 18 goals in 71 appearances is not the form of a £50 million pound striker, but why has he been so bad?
Under Di Matteo this season, Torres has played as a lone frontman, but could have no excuses for the service provided. One of the ‘Holy Trinity’ – Juan Mata, Hazard and Oscar – have made at least one assist in every Premier League game. Torres has had at least two shots in every game he’s played, yet has only six goals scored in 18 appearances. Compare that to Luis Suarez who has an average of six shots per game this season, but has returned 10 goals in 12.
Torres is on a Andriy Shevchenko-like decline at Chelsea; can the man he credits as being ‘the most important coach’ in his career change that before it’s too late?
At Liverpool Benitez most commonly used a 4-2-3-1 which, although the same formation as Di Matteo, had a less adventurous approach. His La-Liga winning Valencia team adopted a similar system grinding out 1-0 win after 1-0 win, but it’s the Liverpool side of 08/09 which offers the best example of Benitez’ style. They finished second in the Premier League four points behind Man United and were among one of the strongest Liverpool sides in recent times.
Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano played a key role in protecting a creative, but highly industrious, Liverpool team. Steven Gerrard enjoyed halcyon days supporting Torres and it was the wings which suffered in the high tempo, high pressing system. Albert Riera, Yossi Benayoun or Dirk Kuyt were assiduous in their work on the flank – Benitez’ preference for graft over guile was apparent throughout his time at Anfield.
When he was sacked as Inter boss at the end of 2010, his tenure stank of poor man management, safe tactics and ill-advised comments in the press. He moved between 4-4-2 and 4-3-2-1, but was never able to let the ingenuity of Wesley Sneijder flourish or play to the strengths of chief goal-poacher Diego Milito.
So displaying a questionable attitude to creative wide men, but an ability to, when given time, get the best from his key players – can he get Chelsea’s attacking players going in that Abramovich direction?
If you look at Inter it’s a no, but if you remember Valencia and Liverpool then it’s a resounding yes. One thing Di Matteo can’t be criticised for during his spell at Chelsea is his treatment of Mata, Oscar and Hazard and for Benitez to keep the fans and owner happy he will have to break convention and embrace a new style of play heavily focused on getting the best out of the ‘Holy Trinity’.
A new Benitez could be the beginning of the new Chelsea.
Picture:Getty ImagesTagged in: chelsea, football, Liverpool, Premier League, Rafael Benitez
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