The second match of the Rafa Benitez era produces yet another lifeless installment in what promised to be so bright and exciting at the beginning of the campaign. This is my nightmare.
Good news, Marko Marin is alive. Bad news, Rafa Benitez is our manager, still. While Rafa continues to succeed in shoring up our oft-maligned defense, it has come at the expense of our attacking capability.
I like to make NBA references from time to time, and if I had to hammer home an analogy for Rafa's tenure thus far, it would be like Mike Brown at the helm of the Lakers earlier this year. All that talent, and Brown went with the Princeton offense, averaged 86 points per game, and got fired after five games. Here, Benitez is keeping true to Chelsea's formation from the Di Matteo era, but after two empty performances devoid of any attacking verve, there's little doubt that the naysayers have reason to yell.
You might be anticipating a comprehensive report on the proceedings, but I'm not going to give you that. Not because I can't, rather, there was hardly anything noteworthy to mention. Benitez, in his infinite glory, elected to drop Juan Mata and John Obi Mikel from the starting lineup (arguably our two most influential players throughout the year) in favor of Ryan Bertrand and Oriol Romeu. The cost? Limited attacking fluidity, a lot of sideways passes, and virtually nothing going toward the Fulham net. By my count, Chelsea have now mustered four shots on target in two games. Gross.
What follows, therefore, are my observations on what was otherwise a decidedly bland affair. In truth, Fulham created better opportunities and were it not for some poor decisions in the final third, should have edged the tie. We can all thank Petr Cech yet again for his magical shot stopping prowess for keeping us afloat.
- Sartorially speaking, Rafa opted for an oversized suit and an orange tie. Either the Dolce tailor has been on vacation, or Roman is really serious about fitting an 'interim' manager with a selection of custom suits.
- The aforementioned Abramovich was in the house, sulking profusely and looking bored. Hey bud, we love you and all but this is what you wanted. Did you expect high-octane attacking football from the man who spent the last two years developing a coaching application for an iPad?
- The omission of Mata was puzzling at first, but further serves to underline Rafa's reluctance to sieve goals. That said, would have been wiser to drop Eden or Oscar instead of Juan. The former pair both look out of sorts. Granted, I love me some Hazard but the dude has looked miles off the pace since September. Might be time to give him an extended break a la Juan. Plugging Bertrand into the left side of the trident gave us more strength at the expense of any sort of consistency.
- Oriol Romeu. Opinion might be split on him and at times he actually did decent things. But I'm having a hard time making the argument that he offers anything in the holding midfield role that makes Mikel expendable. Frankly, he's a slower version of John, and on merit alone doesn't deserve to be filling that vacancy presently. That said, get well soon Frank. Many have forgotten about you, but not me.
- Ramires is a monster. If you wind him up and let him loose, he might run from London to China in an day. Serious.
- Was surprised by Jol's decision to play Karagounis behind Berbatov, but it sort of worked at times. Also, show of hands how many of you would be willing to swap Fernando for Dimitar. I have both arms up at this point. I'm not even slightly kidding.
- We've spent a ton of time this year talking about offensive fluidity and plenty has been written on the subject. At times we've looked to get it down and score with ease, at others, we've struggled to make a dent. Much credit has to be given to the Fulham rearguard who were compact and played a very excellent game. Particularly in the final 20 minutes, they stood toe-to-toe with the Chelsea pressure and failed to buckle.
- Fernando Torres. Get this man off my team. I have no excuses left for his putrid performances. Nevermind that he managed two shots today- one was hit with as much velocity as my four year old niece, the second a flapping sissor-kick after some decent work to receive an Eden Hazard cross that had to be cleared off the line. I couldn't care less if he shoots or doesn't. I just know it's not going in. Fact. How he doesn't understand positioning or timing when it comes to runs into the box is just beyond me. In any organization, when an employee is underperforming, he is either counseled to improve or terminated with cause. We've spent enough time and energy on the former, and it's time Roman seriously considers the latter.
- There was absolutely nothing in the way of atmosphere at the Bridge tonight. Nothing. I couldn't hear any support from the Chelsea fans until the second half. Chants of 'One Di Matteo' mixed with 'We Want Our Chelsea Back'. If Rafa's seriously convinced he can win these fans over, he might want to drop the conservative approach and gamble on a result against West Ham.
- Marko Marin exists. He is not a figment of our imagination. And in a nine minute cameo, he played fairly well. Fingers crossed he gets a proper run out on Saturday.
- Arguably the best chance of the game fell to Fulham in the second half, when some quality buildup let to a cracker of a strike from Riise. Cech did remarkably well to get down to his right to parry away the shot, which tumbled out of play. Beyond that, I've got nothing. Speaking of Fulham, well played Martin Jol for getting a deserved point out of this affair. Neither side was particularly impressive, but they showed they're no slouches when it comes to these sorts of ties.
- I have nothing but love for Cesar Azpilicueta. That boy cray. Got out there and did his thing once again over a full 90. Nailed-on to be our permanent right-back going forward with his energy, tenacity, ability to track back, and crossing. That said, Branislav has looked might solid in the middle these past two matches.
- We were boring. So bloody boring. I'm embarrassed by that display.