Rafa picks perfect moment to show what he does best
Published 31/12/2012 | 05:00
If the true test of any revolution is not the slaughter of lame ducks but successful hand-to-hand fighting in the meanest of streets, it is time to acknowledge the one Rafa Benitez has vowed to achieve against so many odds at Chelsea.
He may still be a long way from the presidential palace but the victory at Everton was by far the most searching test of a manifesto which has promised a late but significant entry into the Premier League title race.
However, nothing is simple at Chelsea, not even the winning of the Champions League, and it was entirely typical of Benitez's situation that the man who delivered yesterday's triumph under the most biting of pressure had already been pronounced time-expired by the Stamford Bridge hierarchy.
Frank Lampard, almost inevitably in all the circumstances, looked about as passé as a newly crowned world champion when scoring his 191st and 192nd goals for the club he has served with such astonishing consistency for more than 10 years.
As Benitez frowned and scribbled his notes, Lampard, aged 34, went about the business of subduing a ferocious and at times deeply impressive Everton.
When he had done his work he ran to the Chelsea fans and touched the badge on his shirt. It was a political statement, as had been his performance, of impeccable timing, but less flawless was the explanation that came later. "I went to the fans because they are the club."
No, they are not and they know it well enough, which is why their protests at the appointment of Benitez reached industrial levels. But then what can any paid servant do about that? Nothing except remind their employers of that which they do best at the most opportune occasions.
This, surely, was one both for Lampard and Benitez. The player gave a tour de force of his great virtues, a brilliant sense of where to be at the most important moments and a superb presence in front of goal. Benitez's virtues were best captured in this most recent evidence that he knows how to tighten a defence – something which must still haunt the fallen Roberto Di Matteo as he asks himself why he didn't think of putting the bold David Luiz out of harm's way in midfield.
What Benitez might allow, in more reflective moments, is that he did not exactly inherit a lost cause. However you measure the contribution of a coach, Chelsea gave a reminder at Goodison Park that they lack neither competitive character nor some of the most enviable football talent that money can buy. That is a reality that was also reflected by the fact that when Di Matteo fell victim of the failed defence of the Champions League title, his team were still just four points off the top of the Premier League.
Maybe the most illuminating statistic of all before a game that brought a bombardment of them was Roman Abramovich's spend on severance payments for discarded coaches – an estimated £70m – exceeds the entire net cost of David Moyes' transfer dealings in his decade with Everton. Such a grotesque imbalance should really have confirmed Benitez's somewhat wildly interpreted old claim that Everton were indeed a small club but, though it probably didn't bring much comfort to Moyes and his men last night, the theory had been relentlessly shredded by the final whistle.
Chelsea came through because of much inherent talent and character and a tactical certainty that became more apparent as the game wore on, but what they couldn't achieve, no more than any other team in England, was any dwindling of respect for the scale of Moyes' achievements.
We cannot know the consequences had Nikica Jelavic's free-kick not hit a post so soon after Steven Pienaar's 63-second opener, or his brilliant header not struck the crossbar in the last moments, but there was no doubt about the persistent force of the Everton effort. For Chelsea the difference between winning and submitting was the profound one declared by Lampard. It was about that which separates even the most talented players from those who have the will and the eye to shape events quite relentlessly.
Lampard never achieved this quality for England – at least not in the routine way he puts it at the disposal of the club who, we are told, no longer see a place for him beside such prospective luminaries as Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Ramires.
Benitez broke the news as a fait accompli the other day but now he must, surely, be wondering if it is a decision that warrants more serious resistance than a shrug.
Even the most promising of revolutions needs the guiding light of a wise old head.
Benitez might be smart to reflect that the one he is attempting to nurture is not yet so strong that it can easily do without Frank Lampard. Put another way, it may be a little soon to make him the next victim of Madame Guillotine. (© Independent News Service)