Just when Chelsea fans, who have given interim manager Rafael Benitez a lot of stick ever since he took over the reigns at the London club from Blues legend Roberto di Matteo, were beginning to warm up to the Spaniard, the European Champions put up abject displays against QPR in the Premier League and Swansea City in the Capital One Cup's first leg of the semi-finals to give the fans more reasons to be hostile.
Goal.com highlights some of the talking points after the latest setback in Chelsea's bid to salvage what should have been a great season.
Torres should have been hauled off for Ba earlier
It was just another day in the office for Fernando Torres as he put up yet another insipid display to justify even further to the club hierarchy that the £50 million signing was a failed investment. Three managers have come and gone as they all tried to reinvigorate the goalscoring form that made Torres one of the feared strikers in the world. Rafael Benitez's appointment was seen as the final card in helping Torres regain his form of old. After some positive displays under Benitez where he scored 7 times in 6 games for the Blues, people began to make that all too familiar mistake of claiming that the Spaniard had rediscovered his form.
Demba Ba's signing from Newcastle United was a shrewd move despite his horrendous injury record. The Senegalese scored on debut for his new club against Southampton and was in line for a start against the Swans. Benitez opted for his preferred striker Torres over the former West Ham man and it was a mistake he would regret. The Spaniard did nothing to contribute to the Blues' attacking third and it was surprising that Benitez needed 80 minutes to be convinced of this fact.
|This change should have happened much earlier in the game|
Chelsea looked far more adventurous once Ba came on and this was seen when the striker put the ball into the net only to be ruled offside under debatable circumstances. Chelsea fans, who normally have backed Torres, despite his woeful form upfront decided that enough was enough and were heard calling for Ba to replace the Spaniard in the game. They would have been wondering on what might have been had the Senegalese international come on a little earlier.
Victor Moses is key to Benitez's success at Chelsea
Some of the changes that have been made by Rafael Benitez since he took over from Roberto di Matteo are actually benefiting the Blues. Chelsea often relied on the attacking guile and flexibility of the Three Amigoes of Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard to dribble their way past defences and score. This continuous inter-change of positions amongst the three was a delight to watch despite this tactic reducing the influence of striker Fernando Torres.
But the reluctance of the Amigoes to track back and help the defence was often Chelsea's downfall as seen in the games against Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus as the opposition utilised the alarming amount of space given to them in the flanks.
One of the highlights of Benitez's reign at Liverpool was that he had players who could provide width to the team and also help out defensively. Dirk Kuyt is a shining example of this. A centre-forward by trade, he was turned into a hard-working winger by Benitez that allowed the likes of Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard to cut open defences to feed Fernando Torres.
At Chelsea, Benitez saw former Wigan man Victor Moses as someone in the Kuyt mould and began to prefer him over Brazilian Oscar who was a Di Matteo favourite. The change was evident when Chelsea slumped to a defeat at Upton Park at the hands of West Ham United. Moses tracked back on a number of occasions as well as stretched the opposition defence, something that Chelsea were not known for since the days of Arjen Robben, Joe Cole, Florent Malouda and Damien Duff.
|Chelsea look less of a threat without Moses|
|STAT: Chelsea have not lost whenever Victor Moses has scored. The Nigerian has been on the scoresheet against Swansea City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Leeds United, and Southampton.|
His workrate ensured that he started over his more illustrious and creative colleagues. The width he provides draws the opposition full-backs out of their positions and leaves open spaces for the creative midfielders like David Luiz and Juan Mata to exploit. Moses' absence, who is on African Cup of Nations duty, could not have come at a worse time for the Blues as they need his presence on the pitch to help them negotiate through a tricky period in the season.
Chelsea's defensive woes continue
Gone are the days when Chelsea were the misers in the Premier League. Their record of conceding only less than 20 goals in an entire season is now a distant memory. The Blues have moved to a more attacking style of play which has seen them score goals but also concede with alarming efficiency.
Last season's Champions League victory was built on the ethos of a strong defensive setup as exhibited in the first leg against Barcelona where a combination of luck and dogged defending helped the Blues pull off a shock victory over the highly favoured Catalans. The start of the 2012-13 season saw the team gravitate towards a more expansive style of football that saw them score goals in plenty. The defence however was found wanting on many an occasion. The defeats to Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League exposed the Achilles Heel in a team that always had a reputation of being a tough nut to crack.
Rafael Benitez's arrival saw the Blues evolve to a more defensive setup and helped them keep their attacking instincts on a tight leash.
|Period||Goals Scored||Goals Conceded||Clean Sheets|
Chelsea's record after 14 games under Di Matteo and Benitez this season
But the defensive lapses in the defeats to QPR and Swansea do not help a side that is attempting to salvage a season that saw them being in contention for 6 trophies at the start of the campaign. Mistakes especially when they come from a senior player like Branislav Ivanovic will give give Benitez more food for thought on whether he can rely on his experienced players to provide a level of defensive assurance. With John Terry's impending return, one can only hope that this will help the European Champions get their defensive house in order.
Michu - the man for the big moment
When Swansea bought Michu for a bargain price of £2 million from Rayo Vallecano, critics questioned the move as the player was moving from a league that was known for their possesion football to a league which was more physically demanding. Michu however answered these doubts in the best possible fashion, by scoring goals. The 26-year old has scored 15 times in 25 games for the Swans which included goals against traditional powerhouses Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea.
|Michu has been amongst the top scorers in the Premier League|
The way to judge the quality of the player is whether he can cope against top opposition. Fernando Torres at Chelsea is a shining example of this fact. The Spaniard has managed to score only against Arsenal this season with all his goals coming against relatively weaker oppositions. Michu's exploits have seen him compete with Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Manchester United's Robin van Persie for the title of the Premier League's top scorer. The former Oviedo man has also rewarded with an assured start for Spain's friendly against Uruguay on February 6, 2013.
Swansea will make their home advantage count
Swansea have conceded 20 goals in the 13 home games that they have played this season. They have only been defeated twice at the Liberty, one being a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of David Moyes' Everton and the other on the wrong end of a 3-4 defeat to Chris Hughton's Norwich City. Michael Laudrup's team have always been a team that are pleasing to the eye and this has seen them pick up only three clean sheets at home.
Swansea have performed very well against the powerhouses of English football when they have visited the Liberty. Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all come away without a win from Wales and this will be something that Laudrup will remind his wards when Rafael Benitez's men pay a visit to the Liberty in an attempt to overturn their first leg deficit.
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