Thursday, 16 May 2013

What Chelsea vs. Benfica taught us

Turns out Benitez knew what he was doing
Who knew?  Managing Chelsea is described as the hardest job in football which we all know is nonsense.  Mind you managing them for more than a season has turned out to be pretty difficult.  On a temporary basis Rafa managed to take a squad of supremely gifted footballers and win them a trophy.  That he did this while qualifiying for next season’s Champions League (arguably more important for the club) is all the more impressive.  Someone will take him permanently surely?

Ramirez isn’t a right winger
Seems slightly churlish to complain when it was his run at the end of the match that led to the decisive corner but Ramirez never truly convinced all night.  If he was selected there ahead of Moses for his defensive quality the first half was evidence against it.  Time after time he let Nicholas Gaitan in particular skip past him with his incisive movement which at least twice should have really led to Benfica taking the lead.  His energy and drive are a better fit in central midfield.  If Chelsea could find a sitting midfielder to play alongside him they’d have a chance of getting the balance right.  Speaking of which…

Chelsea need a Defensive Midfielder
The one thing Rafa hasn’t been able to successfully address is the balance in central midfield.  Lampard has performed admirably and David Luiz’s long term future may be there but last night, the first half in particular highlighted how passive Chelsea have become in the midfield area.  This can be attributed by the amount of games they’ve played this marathon season and by the excellence of Benfica’s pressing but has been a growing concern all year.  They have creative midfielders in abundance but haven’t had anyone to sit and screen successfully since Claude Makelele.  To be fair to Rafa he asked for one in January.  It would be a surprise if this wasn’t the first order of business for the new man (cough, Jose, cough).

The difference in mentality of the two teams was telling
Chelsea have been in nine cup finals in nine seasons.  They won the Champions League when playing demonstrably worse than Bayern Munich last year.  Before the game they had already qualified for the CL next year, their only realistic aim in the league.  Benfica had suffered a last minute loss to Porto at the weekend, taking the climax of the league this weekend out of their hands.  They had lost six European finals before this one.  With every chance fluffed in a dominant first half you could feel their confidence ebbing while Chelsea’s grew.  Even after the equaliser Chelsea always looked the more likely to score.  There’s a lot to be said for being there before.

As a shop window for Benfica’s players it was successful
Benfica seem to be very comfortable with their status as a club that sells its best players every summer, Ramirez and David Luiz moving from them to Chelsea in the past few years.  They just drive a hard bargain then replace them with others.  As such it’s tempting to view them as a European finishing school for prospects for the bigger leagues.  On the basis of their displays here (and over the course of the season) there should be no shortage of takers for Garay, Gaitan and Matic.  At nearly 30 age may be the only factor keeping the biggest clubs from coming calling for Cardozo.

John Terry dresses like Superman
In that he must have had his kit on beneath his suit, how else could the lightning fast change have been made?  I can’t be alone the morning after in wondering if that really happened. 

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