Sunday 18 February 2018

Benitez demands grit to halt Blues slide

West Ham 3 Chelsea 1

Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez during the Barclays Premier League match at Upton Park. Photo: PA
Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez during the Barclays Premier League match at Upton Park. Photo: PA

Henry Winter

Rebellion on the terraces is one thing; any revolt in the dressing-room would be cataclysmic for Rafa Benitez. Chelsea's interim manager needs professionals who buy into his ideas, who also understand that grit is not simply for the roads at this icy time of year.

The moody Blues require the togetherness and resolve that imbued West Ham's response to adversity at Upton Park on Saturday. There was a unity to Sam Allardyce's side, who refused to be daunted by Chelsea's first-half superiority. Sometimes it is not simply about technique; character counts. Respect for the manager too.

The attitude of the Chelsea players towards Benitez is key. There is no sign yet of any dressing-room rancour towards the man who replaced Roberto Di Matteo so controversially. When he gathers his players this morning, Benitez needs to impress on them the importance of standing shoulder to shoulder as they confront a challenging month.

After such a chastening start to December, Chelsea host Nordsjaelland on Wednesday, followed by Sunderland away, the Fifa Club World Cup in Yokohama, a trip to Leeds United in the League Cup, a home date with Aston Villa before 2012 finishes with journeys to Norwich City and Everton.

Chelsea could theoretically end the year as champions of the world with only the FA Cup and Europa League to play for. They could, of course, also revive their Champions League and Premier League ambitions, keep on course towards the League Cup final as well being able to utter the chant of "bring on the Martians" by being big in Japan. It's down to the players.

Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard are needed by Benitez, who yesterday clarified his earlier suggestion that the pair will definitely leave.

"The situation is that they are finishing their contracts (in the summer),'' he said. "Past that, I do not know. Frank is happy here and is a player that is part of the leadership but I do not know about his future.''

He needs John Terry fit. Terry, who has a knee concern, "will train part of the session" today, according to Benitez, who added that Lampard (calf) "will train" today. Such players were required, Benitez acknowledged, because "always character and leadership is necessary in a team''.

After watching his team overwhelmed in the second period by the energy and superior physical and mental strength of West Ham, Benitez conceded: "We did not manage the physicality of the other team, the long balls, the second balls, the corners. That is when you have to show character and quality. We did not do that.

"We have young players in their first year in the Premier League. It is very physical. If you cannot cope with that, you cannot show your quality.

"I was angry (by defeat). I think they were angry. They know it is not the ideal situation and that if I am here it is because something was wrong, that they were not at the level everyone was expecting. When I decided to come, I knew it was a challenge."

As West Ham's second goal went in, as disarray spread through Chelsea, some of the visiting fans started singing: "Roman Abramovich, is this what you want?" Chelsea supporters have never openly questioned their benefactor quite like this.

"Roman is the owner of Chelsea and he's entitled to do whatever he wants because of the amount of money he puts behind the team,'' argued Allardyce. "What he wants, you have to deal with if you're the manager. And you have to deliver. There's clever and talented players in Mata, Oscar, Hazard and Ramires. They're missing John Terry. They're missing leadership."


They also could not cope with Allardyce's changes at the interval, especially the way he stifled Juan Mata. The rise and fall of Mata's influence defined this derby. For 45 minutes he excelled, giving Chelsea a deserved lead following a cutback from Fernando Torres, one of only a few reminders that the No 9 was on the pitch. Mata would have scored a second but for the alertness of Jussi Jaaskelainen and Joey O'Brien.

Allardyce simply unleashed Mohamed Diame, who squeezed the space around Mata. Matt Taylor also arrived, helping Matt Jarvis stretch Chelsea. Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole stood up to be counted.

The home fans screamed themselves hoarse in joy at their team's defiance and also the deftness of many of their moves.

Cole equalised with a header, albeit having reached the ball by piggybacking on Branislav Ivanovic.

Mata bent a free-kick on to a post before West Ham went for the visitors' exposed jugular again. Ashley Cole added another entry into his lengthy ledger of goal-line clearances by thwarting Winston Reid.

Diame made it 2-1 with a fierce shot following good work by Nolan, Jarvis and Carlton Cole. Diame's desire to close down Ashley Cole panicked the full-back into a risky pass that culminated in Modibo Maiga embarrassing Chelsea further. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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