According to a report published in the Daily Mail, Chelsea skipper John Terry and interim manager Rafael Benitez were involved in a training ground bust-up after the latter accused the team of failing to understand his tactics and not putting in enough effort. Terry stood up for the players and reminded Benitez that this squad won the Champions League last May, implying that the Spaniard was at fault for recent results going downhill. This bust-up perfectly highlights a lot of Chelsea’s problems at the moment. The team is managed by a man who doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, while the core players of the squad seem to have more influence over the dressing room than the manager himself.
The entire situation highlights 3 major problems Chelsea currently face: player power, poor management and questionable tactics. These aren’t the only problems Chelsea face though (I could write a whole series of articles about everything wrong with Chelsea at the moment). Let’s take a look at the 3 aforementioned problems one by one.
The “player power” problem first came about when Andre Villas-Boas was the manager at Chelsea. The “old guard” i.e. players like Terry, Lampard, Cech, Drogba et al were unhappy with the way AVB was going about re-shaping the Chelsea squad, mainly because it involved them being on the bench more often than not (at least, that’s what it seemed to outsiders). AVB ended up losing the support of the dressing-room and eventually, his job. One can argue that results under AVB had deteriorated and that sacking the young Portugese manager was the only option available. Given that Chelsea went on to lift the FA Cup and the Champions League, the decision wasn’t seen as a wrong one.
However, the fact that John Terry could effortlessly take on Benitez in front of the players makes one thing very clear: player power still exists at Chelsea. That’s not at all surprising given that no manager has been at Chelsea long enough to actually earn the respect of the players. Managers come and go at Chelsea on a fairly regular basis, meaning that senior players gain more and more authority over the dressing room thus making it harder for the manager to earn the respect of the players.
Many may disagree with me, but player power is a massive problem that needs to be nipped in the bud immediately. The only way to solve this problem: appoint a manager on a permanent basis and stick with him. Given Roman’s propensity to fire managers at the drop of a hat, that’s easier said than done.
One cannot argue with the fact that Chelsea find themselves in this mess largely due to poor management on behalf of Rafael Benitez. And I don’t mean his tactics, I mean his managerial style in general.
It’s a well-known fact that Benitez is a hard man to please. Steven Gerrard once admitted he longed to get a simple “well done” and a pat on the back from Benitez after a good performance. Fernando Torres told the story about the time he told Benitez that he was about to be a father for the first time. According to Torres, Rafa simply said, “Congratulations Fernando” and then went on to talk football tactics with him. The point I’m trying to make is simple: Benitez wasn’t and isn’t a good man-manager.
Given that Chelsea’s success last season was largely down to Roberto Di Matteo’s man-management tactics, one cannot underestimate the importance of the manager having the full respect of his players. Benitez is known to focus on the tactical side of things, but the fact that he’s getting into arguments with players shows that he doesn’t have their respect. While the aforementioned “player power” certainly doesn’t help his cause, it wouldn’t be entirely wrong on anyone’s part to assume that Rafa hasn’t done enough to get the players on his side. Let’s be honest; he can try talking tactics with the players till he’s blue in the face, but if he doesn’t have their respect, the players will never listen to him.
Rafa’s stint as Chelsea manager has been replete with tactical mistakes and questionable substitutions. Let’s quickly analyze the tactics he employed against Manchester City.
The starting XI was a defensive-minded one, with Branislav Ivanovic starting at right-back ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta and Ramires starting on the right-wing. Even though Chelsea’s right-wing was ultra-defensive, City found a lot of joy on their left-wing. Ramires in particular had an awful game. His first touch and decision-making were often poor and he proved once again that he is no winger. But it didn’t stop there. Rafa’s substitutions were just as bad.
He decided to bring off Hazard and Lampard (the 2 players who looked likeliest to get on the score-sheet) and brought on Moses and Oscar. Ramires shifted back into his preferred position in midfield but couldn’t do much from there. Rafa’s final substitution, bringing on Torres for Mikel when the game was all but lost, reeked of desperation and ensured that we lost all shape in midfield and conceded a second goal.
It was surprising that Benitez decided to go defensive against a City side who aren’t exactly in the best of form themselves. The fact that his substitutions appeared devoid of any logic and didn’t do anything to help the cause only served to further infuriate the fans. And this is just one game. There have been several other such games this season.
Chelsea’s season, which started with a bang, is very much in danger of ending with a whimper. The target for this season is simple enough: somehow qualify for the Champions League next season. Forget winning any silverware this season. Then, once this season is over, the “things to do” are as follows: send Benitez packing, appoint a new manager, make wholesale changes to the squad (both buying and selling players), and most importantly, give the new manager time to settle in, build his squad, impose his style of play and earn the respect of the players. Will all this actually happen though? I suppose only time will tell. There is nothing fans can do but hope for the best.