Chelsea 0 Manchester City 0: Poisonous welcome for Benitez as Torres draws blank
00:45 GMT, 26 November 2012
Dave Sexton, a good man, a fine coach and a servant of Chelsea to the last. Just when the mood at Stamford Bridge threatened to turn thoroughly poisonous, it was only the sad news of his passing at the age of 82 that restored calm.
Normally, a new manager, even an interim, would be paraded on the pitch to greet the supporters before the game. No doubt predicting jeers, there was no such ceremony for Rafael Benitez.
His appointment has been greeted with hostility around these parts and, while Benitez stayed in the safety of the bench area, the pre-match announcer cannot have whipped with greater speed through his name.
Unpopular: Rafa Benitez was taking charge of Chelsea for the first time since Roberto Di Matteo's sacking
CHELSEA: Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole,
Ramires, Mikel (Romeu 79), Oscar, Mata, Hazard (Moses 71), Torres. Subs
Not Used: Turnbull, Ferreira, Marin, Cahill, Bertrand.
MAN CITY: Hart, Zabaleta, Nastasic, Kompany,
Kolarov, Silva, Toure, Barry, Dzeko (Tevez 69), Aguero (Balotelli 86),
Milner. Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Maicon, Nasri, Javi Garcia, Toure.
Booked: Zabaleta, Kolarov, Balotelli.
Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside).
This was the first match of new manager ‘Rafabenitez’, he garbled, without a pause in which fans could voice their opinion. They did so anyway, boos replacing the traditional fanfare.
'Ladies and gentlemen,’ said the announcer, struggling to be heard. ‘Please, ladies and gentlemen.’ He asked for quiet maybe five times before hurrying out the news of Sexton’s death, with the minute of applause to follow. He sounded desperate.
How long the opprobrium would have lasted had there not been a handy tragedy to restore order, who knows Even the sombre atmosphere did not stem the chants for deposed manager Roberto Di Matteo or prevent a show of support for him on 16 minutes, his shirt number here.
Frustrations: Fernando Torres endured another difficult day, with Vincent Kompany looking after him
Torres had been all smiles during the warm-up and was quickly looking for possession. However, following a couple of poor early touches, that confidence quickly drained and never looked like it would come back today.
Torres' afternoon was summed up by the expression when picking himself off the floor after being barged out of possession by City captain Vincent Kompany in the closing stages.
The Chelsea frontman covered plenty of ground, but often ran into spaces where the ball did not follow. When he did get a pass into feet at the edge of the City penalty area, Torres was slow to turn and soon hounded out.
Far too often, Chelsea looked to hit Torres with a long ball, bypassing midfield. When Juan Mata or Eden Hazard did get involved, they were more often than not on a different wavelength to the No 9, who spent most of the second half working the channels.
Torres was given little opportunity in front of goal in the first half, as Kompany kept him in close quarters. Just after the hour, he linked up well with Mata and Hazard for an opening, but blazed his shot over the crossbar.
Benitez has a thick skin, say those
who know him. He will need it. Whether his players have thick skins too
is debatable, but they will need to be equally resilient unless results
A dry spell tolerated when local hero — and Champions League winner, never forget — Di Matteo was in charge will now be met with fury under Benitez. The pressure at Chelsea has multiplied overnight with his arrival. Yesterday’s goalless draw with the champions was a fair result, but greeted with disinterest.
Roberto Mancini said the only way Benitez could be loved here would be to ‘win, win, win, win, win’, but that might not be enough, either. The best he can hope for is a grudging respect.
Booing a manager into a job does seem faintly ridiculous. It happened to Gary Megson at Bolton Wanderers, too. Yet the club were bottom of the Premier League when he arrived and finished 16th that season and 13th the year after. The supporters never took to him and he left during his third campaign amid another relegation battle, but he did a better job than expected; Benitez might, too.
His problem is that the very nature of his appointment — interim manager — marks him out as a stop-gap, a temp. The fans have no imperative to learn to love him and nor do the team. A player who does not enjoy Benitez’s methods can simply wait him out and hope he has a better relationship with his successor.
Trickster: The likes of Oscar and Juan Mata struggled to impress their new manager
A clean sheet, the first in the league since September 22, was the best of it for Benitez against a Manchester City side that tried Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko,
Carlos Tevez and even Mario Balotelli for six minutes (during which time he picked up another preposterous yellow card from referee Chris Foy for simulation after running into David Luiz).
The disappointment was that Chelsea had just one shot on goal in a home game. It is the first time they have failed to score here since May 2, against Newcastle United. The time before was March 24. Chelsea do not draw blanks here very often.
Try as he might: Benitez was animated throughout on the touchline, but couldn't inspire
If Benitez has been hired to work magic on Fernando Torres, it was more like pulling teeth than producing a rabbit from a hat. Liverpool failed to score in his last two games there, too.
Torres hurried, scurried, but was too often beaten off the ball by City’s back line, with Vincent Kompany outstanding. Torres had a couple of bursts but was quickly reined in, and one shot with his unfavoured left foot that flew over from close range. He should have done better. You might have heard that before.
For City, this was two points lost. Chelsea are a very different side to the one that lost to Manchester United with Mark Clattenburg’s aid on October 28. Chelsea looked strong that day. Yesterday, they were damaged goods.
Rough and ready: Chelsea's defence were well-drilled, keeping City's attacking talent at bay
The fluid players expensively
assembled over two summers — Oscar, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata — now appear
unsure of their roles. Mata was played very wide to better supply Torres
(left), but only shone in the second half when he appeared to drift off
message. Hazard was substituted early, a shadow of his early-season
His replacement, Victor Moses, set up
Chelsea’s best chance, a fierce shot from Ashley Cole that Joe Hart
tipped over, although he got no credit from Foy, who awarded a goal
kick. On the plus side, Benitez seems to have instilled greater
discipline in Luiz but it would be hard to instil less. Luiz recovered
from an early mistake — Cole rescued him by blocking a shot from Pablo
Zabaleta — to come on to a decent game.
City dominated the first half and
created good chances for David Silva (header, over), Zabaleta (one-two
with Dzeko, shot saved) and Aguero (poor header, straight at Petr Cech)
before half-time, after which Chelsea showed greater initiative.
Only late did City come again, a Dzeko cross intercepted by Cole by the line, one from Tevez that appeared to surprise Cech as he tipped round. In the last minute, Matija Nastasic rose to meet a corner from Silva, Cech doing well to keep out his header.
Benitez shrugged off his reception by claiming he did not understand some of the chants. He would have to be a fool, though — and he is not — to fail to get the gist. Wednesday brings Fulham to Stamford Bridge and, if Chelsea cannot win, not even the late, gentle Sexton will be able to shield him from the full force of public opinion.
VIDEO: GRAHAM CHADWICK'S PICTURES FROM CHELSEA V MANCHESTER CITY