If ever there were a finger to be pointed at fault for defeat at home to Queens Park Rangers on Wednesday evening, then there would be no more likely candidate than Rafa Benitez.
Though a thoughtless and knee jerk reaction of the above summary maybe found, the blame falls on the Spaniard’s lap for failing to win a match that was presented as a victory throughout the game prior to Shaun Wright-Phillips eventual winner.
Rightly so, Benitez found the London derby against bottom of the table to QPR an excuse to rotate the starting line-up and refresh the squad. Those decisions have to be defended even in defeat, as the starting line-up were adequate to beat a team stranded in such isolation in the league having not won an away match since 2011 and conceding in 27 consecutive matches.
It wasn’t the selection that thwarted the attacking ebb of the team but the tactics and strategies employed by both sides. With Rangers setting up to shut out Chelsea and effectively doing so, there was a suggestion by half time a goal may have to be forced by tactical adjustment in a tight game.
Benitez’s reluctance to really make dependable changes or even influence the game from the technical area are held as the primary reasons for the short falling on Wednesday. With QPR tight knitted and compact in two lines of defence, they showed a willingness to allow Chelsea to keep possession and continue to casually distribute the passes around without promising much goal threat, with the exception of speculatively wild long range efforts from Ivanovic and Luiz and a deflected chance in the first half.
Support was certainly needed further up the field to contend with bodies flooding the key attacking areas protected by QPR, as they persisted with exclusive pressing in their own territory, allowing their wingers to peg Chelsea’s fullbacks and the trio in midfield to close down the space of Oscar, Moses and Marin.
Resurgence in attack from the Blues was shortcoming soon after the second half after an initial burst of penetration was roundly quashed with the juggernaut defence from the opposition. Leadership was certainly needed from a manager who surely needed to win this type of matche to prove to the footballing world he can still cut it.
It seemed to take a while before Ivanovic found encouragement to move forward with or without the ball and not under the prerequisite of set pieces. And even after QPR scored a centre back were never sent up front to make a nuisance of himself and support a whimpering forlorn Fernando Torres, who was far too frequently shrugged off the ball with ease from the aging defensive partnership of Hill and Nelsen.
Instead of making an attacking change or pushing one of the holding midfielders further forward when 11 QPR shirts would swamp their own half, or even make a 3 man defence to cater for the wedging of another player in the heart of rangers’ defence, Benitez opted for straightforward replacements. Once falling behind, a change in personnel consisted of a swap of Ramires for Lampard, even though Chelsea by that stage were chasing the game to rescue a point and had created little apart from the latters disallowed goal for offside.
It has been mentioned by commentators in the past of how Rafa Benitez likes to think about changes around the hour mark, which shouldn’t be thought as a surprise when the Spaniard decided to replace the slightly disappointing Marko Marin, making his first league start, with Eden Hazard.
But then his decision to make that change there and then says much about his predictability than his supposed masterful tactical awareness. And that is why defeat was a hard pill to swallow on Wednesday evening, and one to be taken with a glass of water by Rafa Benitez come the summer.