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Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Chelsea fans publicise Benitez distaste

Miguel Delaney

How can someone recover from a rancorous reception like Rafa Benitez received at Stamford Bridge on Sunday? What are their emotions during it? How do they face up to going back just three days later? Well, somewhat surprisingly, Rafa Benitez didn't feel any weight on his shoulders during the barrage of boos he endured against Manchester City. He did, however, feel something in his throat - but not as an effect of any emotion. Because, while the Chelsea fans were roaring angrily at Benitez before, throughout and after their 0-0 draw with the Premier League champions, he was doing some irritated shouting himself. Well, a lot of it. "My first surprise, after nearly two years, was I lost my voice almost immediately. I need to work at that. When we are attacking, you try and give some advice to the defenders," he told reporters. "With a new system and ideas, I needed to try and be on top of them, so I tried it. I like to say something if I can to make it help." There have, however, been a fair few players throughout Benitez's career that haven't always appreciated the exact nature - or, at least, the delivery - of that 'help'. Indeed, one frequent comment about the Spaniard has been that he is often too mechanistic in man-management, not quite personable enough, too professionally detached. There's that famous story about how, in the immediate aftermath of Istanbul 2005 and the greatest moment of Djibril Cisse's career, Benitez attempted to explain to the striker a few tactical details about the game. In essence, it was this analytical, almost dispassionate, attitude that the events of Sunday - and Benitez's reaction to them - ended up proving. As he said himself in his pre-game press conference for the Fulham match, although he would not apologise to the Chelsea fans for that infamous 'flags' comment, he hoped he had proved his professionalism to them. Take the very method he used to deal with it all: "If you have a player that doesn't have the support of the fans, I'd tell him to stay focussed and try to do his job. Don't be distracted. Concentrate on your football." That, to be fair, is exactly what Benitez did. "I can't worry if I'm upset or not. If it was a player, I'd be telling him to concentrate on his job. The best way to change things is to win games." Once it all died down and he had proper time to reflect, though, how did he actually buy Sunday night? "Really pleased. For me, it was a challenge. I'd had a lot of offers but I'd been waiting for a club like this to challenge for trophies. I was really pleased. I thought it might be difficult, but it was the same things, same routines, just different faces." Just. You might say that mechanistic approach is revealing itself again; that the players are, with a few exceptions, just cogs in the overall structure. Another frequent statement about Benitez, though, has been that structure is too rigid, too based on defensive organisation rather than attacking improvisation. This is somewhat unfair given that, for three months at the end of the 2008-09 season and for much longer at Valencia, Benitez successfully executed his ideal of an intense, high-pressure game. It is undeniable, though, that defence is the first thing he looks at. Take his comments on how he now sees Sunday's draw with City having had the chance to properly analyse it. "The first impression is that, against a very good team, we were quite good in defence; a clean sheet for the first time since September. That's quite positive. In terms of the things we were trying to do in training, the movement in defence, it was good. "In terms of attacking and possession, it was difficult. The team had 46% possession against Juventus and conceded three times. This time, we had about the same but didn't concede. We have to find a balance." That balance, of course, is all the more important given the infamous expectations of Roman Abramovich. Ultimately, the Russian didn't pay for Benitez or the likes of Eden Hazard - who himself was a particular subject of the Spaniard's shouting on Sunday - to just be defensively sound. And, although the Chelsea manager discussed a variety of topics during another generous 45 minutes on Tuesday, they kept coming back to three key issues: the fans, Fernando Torres, and fantasy football. As a consequence, some of Benitez's answers were curious. "Always, to win is the most important thing. If we can do it in style, much better, but the priority is to do our best and try and win." That hasn't been the case in the past, when Abramovich has specifically requested theatre similar to Barcelona. Benitez, though, has already talked with the owner more than most and gave an interesting - and extremely rare - direct insight into the Russian's views. "I have spent some time with Roman, and we were not talking about the Barcelona style. He wants to see his team play well. We watched the under-21s yesterday with Michael Emenalo. John Terry and him and we were talking about the opposition players. Roman says he wants to see the team playing well, but not with the Barcelona style. He knows we don't have [Leo] Messi, Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta, players who have been working together for years. We have different players. "I think we can play attacking and defensive football together. We have to find the balance. We have to give the ball to them to create, that's our main issue - how do we link with them and give them the freedom to perform and do well, but be organised as a team also." That, to be fair, was one of the main flaws of Roberto Di Matteo's 2012-13 Chelsea. He never successfully married old defence and new attack. And, despite speculation about the established players on Tuesday, Benitez did talk of the necessity of incorporating their experience and character. "If you analyse carefully a team that's growing...now you have a team with Oscar, Hazard. They have only just arrived and will need some time to settle down. The team is different. The mentality is similar because it's a top side, but you'll need some time to build the character and strong personality. You'll need players like Terry and Lampard with their leadership. I don't expect my attacking players to defend like Ashley Cole or [Branislav] Ivanovic." He does, however, expect Torres to come to something like his old form with the right preparation and the right service; and it might actually come from the same problem area of the pitch - the defensive midfield. "You need players behind who can link with him. You can't hit balls in the air to Hazard. You need to play on the floor, so other teams will look to close the penetrating passes to him. The three players won't always receive the ball. So we need to find a style and balance from the back, not just having quality from the front three or four." For once, then, Abramovich may have to wait - however unlikely that is. Benitez himself, however, has so far proved he can deal with the weight of it all.


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