A Safety-First Approach Doesn't Win Games

The midweek match against Fulham was a frustrating one both in terms of the result and the overall performance of the team. While Chelsea were successfully able to keep a clean-sheet, the lack of a killer instinct up front meant that Chelsea are yet to score a goal under Rafael Benitez. What got me wondering, however, was Benitez’s approach to the game.

Benitez clearly didn’t think Fulham were a serious challenge (he mentioned in his pre-match press conference that they weren’t Chelsea’s biggest rivals) but this attitude didn’t seem to reflect in his team selection. The decision to play Ryan Bertrand on the left-wing was a baffling one. Bertrand has played in that position a few times before, but only in matches when we needed that extra bit of defensive cover. While the decision to rest Mata was an understandable one, playing Moses or Marin (direct replacements for Mata on the wing) would have made more sense given that Fulham aren’t exactly the strongest team in the Premier League. The fact that this was a home match made the safety-first approach all the more baffling.

Di Matteo had adopted a similar approach in the beginning of the season, QPR away being a notable example. In that match, Ramires started on the right wing while Bertrand started on the left. Many fans defended Di Matteo’s decision saying that it was an away match and that he had an important Champions League match against Juventus to look forward to. But an important Champions League match is no excuse for playing such an XI against a team that were struggling for form. Funnily enough, QPR are still yet to win a Premier League match this term, justifying the criticism of Di Matteo’s tactics in that match. But he dropped his approach when he realised that it wasn’t working for him and results also improved. The one match he decided to go defensive ended in a loss and also cost him his job.

Benitez has a lot of work to do and very little time to do it. He needs to ensure that Chelsea return to winning ways, soften the fans attitude towards him (seems almost impossible at the moment) and shore up the defence, which has looked shaky at times. While he has managed to tighten up the defence a bit, the attack looks toothless, with even players like Mata, Hazard and Oscar looking listless at times. The fans may never fully accept him as first-team manager, but getting the right results will ensure that he cops a little less flak from Chelsea fans. And if he has to get the right results, he needs to drop his “better safe than sorry” approach and go all out, especially against weaker teams. That doesn’t mean that he should start the same tried and tested XI in every match. He has a large squad and needs to use it cleverly. But considering the amount of attacking prowess that Chelsea possess, going defensive against mid-table teams will only ensure that his term as Chelsea’s interim manager comes to a premature end.

Shayne Dias

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