Rafa not the root of Chelsea’s problems

Getting rid of Rafael Benitez may make a lot of Chelsea fans feel better about life, but it won't solve the club's problems.

Rafa not the root of Chelsea’s problems

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February 12th, 2013

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While a more popular manager might lift spirits among the crowd, he would still have the same constraints on his squad, and to some extent tactics, that have blighted the Blues this season.

One of the reasons Chelsea gave Roberto Di Matteo his marching orders was a perception that by picking the same first XI week after week, he was displaying a lack of managerial understanding.

Benitez pointed to this as an area for change just a week after his November appointment, saying: “My idea is to use the squad. We have too many players playing almost every game.

“And the other players don’t have too many minutes. So we will try to fix this.”

Since then, however, forays into the lower reaches of Cobham’s playing staff have shown that while Chelsea have a first team that is under-performing, their squad is dangerously shallow in terms of ability.

Scratch beyond the surface, and the Blues’ existing playing staff barely provide enough quality for the top end of the Premier League.

Clubs are permitted to name a league squad of 25 over the age of 21: but Chelsea are presently four short of that total. Even including first-team-ready youngsters they only have 24 options.

And that number includes Ross Turnbull, Hilario and Marko Marin (none of whom look good enough for even a second string side), Paulo Ferreira and Fernando Torres (who are nowhere near the players they once were), Florent Malouda (who the club refuses to allow to play), and Oriol Romeu (who will miss most, if not all of the rest of the season through injury).

Even before Victor Moses and John Mikel Obi went to the African Cup of Nations and Eden Hazard received his three-match ban, the penny seemed to have dropped with Benitez that there were good reasons why Di Matteo was playing the same XI every week.

Presented with these issues, what did Chelsea’s Board do in the transfer window? They switched Daniel Sturridge for Demba Ba, and sent borderline first team option Lucas Piazon to sit on the bench at Malaga – to take to 23 the total number of players out on loan. Yossi Benayoun, a man who couldn’t get into the West Ham team, returned to the fold.

Another issue is the strict adherence to an on-pitch formation that frequently sees players such Frank Lampard, Ramires and Ryan Bertrand played out of position.

While many point the finger at Benitez for this, two successive Chelsea managers have now relentlessly adopted the same 4-2-3-1 shape without the players to sustain it: which suggests this is less a matter of choice than of club policy.

Benitez must carry a lot of the blame for Chelsea’s current position: there are serious questions to be raised about his ability to motivate players and change matches.

But, should his time run out, whoever succeeds him will have to work within the same broken structure at Stamford Bridge.

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