x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Premier League: Chelsea's Rafa Benitez is a convenient scapegoat

His side could finish runner-up in the English Premier League this year, yet Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez's future with the club remains uncertain, writes Jonathan Wilson.

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez watches his team from the sidelines.
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez watches his team from the sidelines.

Perhaps it would have been different had Joe Hart not saved Frank Lampard's penalty. Perhaps it would have been different had Chelsea begun with Victor Moses rather than Ramires on the right.

Perhaps the post-game criticism of Rafa Benitez for his cautious approach was justified. Perhaps he was just unlucky, undone by a rare lapse from one of the most reliable penalty takers in the Premier League.

But whatever the reason, whether Chelsea's defeat to Manchester City was the result of ill luck or ill-conceived tactics, as Benitez trudged off at the end, he looked weary, another manager broken by Chelsea.

When he arrived, in November, Benitez seemed refreshed after his break from the game, breezily dismissing the fans' dislike for him, clearly confident in his own ability to get results.

Yet in the 16 Premier League games Chelsea have played under him, they have picked up 25 points. In the 12 they had played under Roberto Di Matteo they picked up 24.

The equation is not quite as simple as that, of course. There was a clear sense in the final weeks of Di Matteo's reign that Chelsea had been worked out, and he was struggling to find a response.

Given time, of course, he may have done, but Roman Abramovich never quite seemed to have been convinced by the Italian and so pulled the trigger at the first sign of trouble.

That is what he tends to do anyway. If there is no sense of decline under Benitez it is only because there was never a great high to fall from.

Although Chelsea remain in both the FA Cup and Europa League - and could yet conceivably finish second in the Premier League – there is little sign of progress either, little reason to believe Benitez's interim position will be made permanent.

At the moment it seems he is being used to push through awkward decisions: not renewing Frank Lampard's contract, decommissioning John Terry. But what comes next? Are there any more managers left for Abramovich to dismiss?

Jose Mourinho, likely to be available in the summer, could go back. Manuel Pellegrini might be persuaded that Chelsea cannot be any worse to manage than Real Madrid were.

Michael Laudrup's qualities at Swansea City have suddenly been recognised. But it is hard not to believe the problems are less with the manager than with the structure.

Swansea have shown what continuity of philosophy can achieve; Chelsea are their opposite.

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