“Are you saying Boo or Boourns?” can be considered one of the more famous Simpsons quotes in the long-standing history of the programme. It, of course, refers to the booing of Mr Burns following the airing of his short film ‘A Burns for All Seasons’.
The negative response to his movie saw Mr Smithers turn to his boss and insist: “They’re saying Boourns. Boourns.” As such, whenever a player or manager is booed at football, fans of the game on Twitter will regurgitate the ‘Boourns’ joke, with Rafael Benitez’s first match as Chelsea manager receiving similar treatment.
The Spaniard was brought in to replace the outgoing Roberto Di Matteo, who had suffered a similar fate to Andre Villas-Boas - both of whom were relieved of their duties at Stamford Bridge on the backend of a defeat to West Bromwich Albion at Hawthorns and a loss to an Italian side in the Champions League; Juventus claiming the scalp of the former, Napoli the latter.
Benitez took the reins for the first game of his managerial campaign in west London in the 0-0 draw with Manchester City on the 25th of November and, as expected, his name was welcomed to a chorus of boos, prompting the above joke.
The fans were unhappy with the new man at the helm following his time at Liverpool and were quick to make their frustration known through a series of banners, while venting their support for Di Matteo by applauding the Italian in the 16th minute of every game.
Considering Di Matteo’s stature at the club, having played for Chelsea between 1996 and 2002, while winning a number of domestic and European accolades, the vocal vitriol reached new levels at Stamford Bridge, even if Benitez hadn’t done anything wrong upon his appointment.
However, while he may’ve secured Europa League glory in Amsterdam following Branislav Ivanovic’s towering header in the dying embers of the 2-1 win over Benfica, one can understand the frustration regarding the hiring of Benitez, with the club performing marginally worse under the 53-year-old this season.
At the time when Di Matteo was relieved of his duties, the 42-year-old was attaining an average of 2 points per game, a slight mark up on Benitez’s 1.92 since the stalemate with City up until, and including, the 2-1 win over Aston Villa last weekend.
In fact, had the season started when Benitez took over in November, Chelsea would be fifth in the Premier League with 48 points, with Manchester United first on 61 points, Tottenham Hotspur second on 52, Arsenal third on 51 and Manchester City fourth on 50.
With the discontent of the fans, regardless off the lower points average, Benitez has still attained 25 – from a possible 36 - of his 48 points in games at Stamford Bridge this season. With an average of 2.08 per home game, that figure remains marginally lower than Di Matteo’s 2.16.
Furthermore, the Blues attacking prowess has also weakened slightly, with Chelsea scoring only 1.96 goals per game, compared to the 2 they were netting when under the stewardship of Di Matteo.
This comes as little shock when considering that the club were creating an average of 2 big chances per game under their former midfielder, compared to just 1.28 with Benitez. However, the success rate improves considerably under the current interim manager, with Chelsea netting 59% of their clear cut opportunities created compared to a lowly 45% under Di Matteo.
Meanwhile, their defensive solidity has improved under Benitez, with the West London side at conceding only 1 goal per game - a slight improvement on the 1.08 under Di Matteo - while Chelsea are making 17 clearances that have found a teammate per game and winning 13.92 aerial duels per Premier League encounter, compared to respective figures of 14.08 and 13.08 when the Italian was in charge.
Individual quality instead has proven to be a necessity under the Spaniard, and it is no shock to see the players attempt more dribbles per game (17.04) since his arrival, compared to just 16 per game when Di Matteo was at the helm.
Although they have been defensively stronger in terms of conceding fewer goals, the stats elsewhere weigh heavily in favour of Di Matteo and there is the argument that, with the club only four points off top spot when he was sacked, relieving him of his duties was evidently the wrong move to make.
Indeed, while Benitez may have landed Europa League glory on Wednesday night, the figures certainly indicate that the added attacking impetus Di Matteo thrust upon his players could well have seen the club finish closer to Manchester United in the league table.
Nevertheless, having Benitez at the helm ensured Chelsea became that much more resolute defensively without restricting the flair of his key players, as the dribbles attempted per game figures suggest. They have become industrious, epitomised by the utilisation of David Luiz in midfield, with the powerful Brazilian now a mainstay in the Blues starting XI having started 19 of the 25 Premier League games Benitez has taken charge of, of which they’ve won 63%.
So while the vitriolic abuse sent in the direction of Benitez has at times been somewhat uncalled for, the stats still prove that the fans have a right to have felt aggrieved by the dismissal of Di Matteo in November, especially having only been appointed as a manager on a full time basis five months earlier.