Rafa Benitez has never been the most popular man around Stamford Bridge ever since he said some less than complimentary things about a few flags, but the poor treatment he continues to receive appears to be having an impact on the team’s performances at home, so is it time for the terraces to get on board, at least until the end of the campaign for the sake of keeping their chances of silverware and success alive? Let’s investigate.
It appears that Chelsea fans at the moment can be broken down into roughly three groups, for no large section of supporters ever thinks as one collective mind; you have those who are unhappy at the appointment but are willing to keep quiet and support the side, those that have taken the hiring of Benitez as a personal affront and have a deep dislike for the man and aren’t shy about showing their distaste and finally the third group that are using this latest decision to invoke their outrage at the club’s hierarchy, with the Spanish coach merely the symbol of their protests. All in all then, it’s not a very happy club at the moment and the atmosphere has bordered on the poisonous at times, particularly at home.
Away from home, though, the side appears liberated and they became the first team to score four goals at Stoke in the Premier League, outplaying Tony Pulis’ outfit that before kick-off had the third-best defensive record in the top flight. When you add into the mix the 5-1 win over Southampton and impressive wins against an in-form Norwich and Everton and it appears the only barrier to progress is widespread acceptance of the man at the helm.
Contrast this to their home form under the 52-year-old former Liverpool manager and aside from hammering a desperately poor Aston Villa side 8-0, they’ve slumped to disappointing defeats against QPR and Swansea while also drawing their first two outings under his tenure against Fulham and Manchester City. Benitez’s home record as Chelsea manager reads – played 6, won 2, drawn 2, lost 2, scoring 14 times (in two games against Villa and Nordsjaelland) and conceding four, drawing a blank in four of those fixtures. Home is clearly not where the heart is right now.
The club’s away record during the same period, including the trip away to the Club World Cup in Japan, reads as follows – played 9, won 7, lost 2, scoring 24 times and conceding nine goals, keeping two clean sheets. He has steadied the ship since taking over from Roberto Di Matteo back in late November, tightened up a porous defence and added a degree of spark back into the side, with David Luiz’s conversion to a swashbuckling midfielder standing out as just one of a number of positive changes he’s made to the team.
Nevertheless, Benitez remains acutely aware of their struggles on home soil, stating after the home defeat to Swansea in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg, after which he was roundly booed again: “We are doing very well away but, at home, the other teams wait deep and we have less space. We are still creating chances but we have to be more clinical.
“If we score goals and take our chances, it will be completely different because the other team will be more open but, if that’s not the case, like it has been in the last two games, it becomes more difficult.”
A siege mentality can be a positive thing when harnessed to the team’s benefit, but when it’s aimed at their manager, it can lead to home comforts disappearing and the team playing nervously at a ground which is supposed to be their fortress. Tottenham suffered a very similar jittery start at White Hart Lane at the beginning of the season under new boss Andre Villas-Boas, performing better on the road away from what had rapidly turned into a hostile atmosphere.
There’s a real mob mentality at Stamford Bridge at the moment, yet Benitez appears to be taking the vast majority of criticism which would perhaps be best aimed towards owner Roman Abramovich instead. Even if the A4 banners were widely mocked for their amusing feebleness, it doesn’t hide the vicious side of the abuse aimed at the Spaniard.
Given that former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has just agreed to sign a three-year deal to take over at Bayern Munich at the end of the season, replacing the retiring Jupp Heynckes in the process, Chelsea’s options have become severely limited to a pool of Jurgen Klopp, Marcelo Bielsa and Joachim Loew, with a romantic return for Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho little more than just a hopeful possibility; granting Benitez a fair crack of the whip might not be the worst idea in the world right about now.
It’s clear that the longer the vitriol continues, the more it undermines Benitez’s authority. The fans clearly don’t want him at the club, that much has been made clear. There’s very little chance of him getting the job on a full-time basis at the end of the season, so just what exactly are Chelsea fans getting out of continuing this scornful approach? When it starts to have a direct influence on results much to the detriment of their chances of success, you have to question the logic in carrying on in such a childish and contemptuous manner.