Rafa Benitez has been fighting an uphill battle at Stamford Bridge ever since his appointment as interim manager back in November, his affiliation with Liverpool simply too much for many fans to overcome. Results echoed these problems, with away performances and results significantly better than in front of their increasingly frustrated and unhelpful home crowd. Following an away defeat to West Ham, Benitez oversaw 6 straight wins on the road in all competitions, whilst at home he won only 2 of his first 7 games in charge. Few would argue that there has been much, if any, improvement since Roberto Di Matteo was replaced, and the stats agree.
The cold, hard truth that Benitez's biggest critics will be screaming from the rooftops in the hope that Roman Abramovich might catch wind of it is as follows. In 3 games more than Di Matteo this season, Benitez has picked up only one more Premier League point than the Italian managed. In his 12 games in charge at the start of the campaign, Di Matteo oversaw 7 wins on his way to gaining 24 points, leaving his team third in the table and only 4 points off top spot. True, it was that his side were all but eliminated from the Champions League that was his ultimate downfall, but results in the league were far from bad enough to warrant the sack.
Di Matteo's Chelsea scored 2 goals per game, whilst they conceded, on average, 1.08 goals per game; Benitez's Chelsea have scored slightly more often - 2.07 per game, and also conceded slightly more - 1.13 per game. However, the 8-0 win over Aston Villa in December distinctly warps this statistic; in Benitez's other 14 games in charge Chelsea have averaged 1.71 goals per game. The most important statistic remains nonetheless. Di Matteo won 2 points per game, whilst Benitez has won 1.67.
The Aston Villa game papered over the many cracks at Chelsea, and gave them a little boost after the disappointment of their failure to win the Club World Cup - the fourth competition they had already failed to win this season after falling short in the Community Shield, Super Cup and Champions League. However, it was a fragile Villa side that the Blues took advantage of, and they were brought crashing back to reality in their very next home game, a 1-0 defeat to bottom-of-the-table QPR.
One of the skills Benitez was meant to be bringing to Stamford Bridge was the ability to get the best out of the enigma that is Fernando Torres, having done so for many a year at Anfield. Torres was left out of the starting eleven in Di Matteo's final game in charge [the 3-0 defeat at Juventus], but was reinstated by Benitez, completing 90 minutes in each of the next three matches, in which Chelsea managed just one goal - scored by Juan Mata - and no wins. Torres seemed to have found his goalscoring touch in his next game, though, against lowly Nordsjaelland of Denmark, scoring twice in a 6-1 win and in the process recording his first WhoScored perfect 10 rating since facing Genk well over a year previously.
Torres followed up with another brace at Sunderland and then singular goals at Leeds and the first in the Villa game. That goal came after just 3 minutes, and whilst he did well for the rest of the 67 minutes he played, he was by no means the outstanding performer on the day. What is more, his 3rd minute goal in fact ended a great spell of form for the £50m striker. At that point in time, in his past 228 minutes on the pitch, he had netted 6 times. Maybe Rafa had found what was going wrong for the Spain international and fixed it? It turned out that he hadn't.
Since that goal in the mauling of Paul Lambert's side on the 23rd of December last year, Torres has found the net just once in 1041 minutes on the pitch. That is, his late equaliser at Brentford - which, in fairness to him, was important in that it kept his side in the FA Cup - was his only strike in well over 17 hours of game time. £50m or not, that is a shockingly poor return.
The approaching January transfer window and rumours of incoming strikers as well as the fans demanding that purchases be made in that part of the pitch may well have played a part in Torres' loss of form, but there must have been more to it for such a dramatic change to occur. Demba Ba did in fact arrive not long after to solve Chelsea's woes, but has proven far from the saviour the fans had hoped he would be.
He marked his debut with a brace against Southampton in the FA Cup, and followed up with another goal against the same opposition in the league 11 days later. That was his last goal, though, and in terms of that all important statistic, Ba has hardly even justified his £7m price tag. He does more than Torres in terms of holding up the ball and bringing their skilful attacking midfielders into play, but Torres' problems in front of goal have not been remedied with Ba's arrival. The Senegalese's 3 goals in 589 minutes in all competitions speaks for itself.
Chelsea's 2-0 defeat at Manchester City this weekend only served to prove the lack of progress under Benitez. It was the reverse fixture of Rafa's first game in charge of the Blues - a drab and uninspiring goalless draw - in which David Luiz's long range attempt was Chelsea's only shot on target. On Sunday at the Etihad, Chelsea troubled Joe Hart in the Man City goal on 2 occasions, one of which was from the penalty spot, while the other was an Eden Hazard effort from outside the area.
Chelsea are not yet on the same level as either of the Manchester clubs, and there is a lot of work to be done if they are to reach their heights. For the time being though, Rafa Benitez and co. should arguably be more concerned with looking over their shoulders at who might be closing in if they continue to slip up.