Benitez still waits for first Chelsea goal as Torres's struggles go on
Thursday 29 November 2012
At times the game last night was so forgettable that even the militants at Stamford Bridge seemed to have forgotten that Roberto Di Matteo had been sacked and Rafael Benitez, below, installed as his successor.
Then, in the final few frustrating minutes of the game, the malcontents found their voice again and sang 'We want our Chelsea back'. But which Chelsea? The one that had not won the league since 1955 before Roman Abarmovich turned up?
It was not that Chelsea, in Benitez's second game in charge, were awful; it was just that they looked so far from a team that might challenge for the league. They huffed and puffed but never really put Fulham under the kind of pressure that might break the away side. Up in the stand, Roman Abramovich rested his chin in the palm of his hand and looked nonplussed.
They were booed off at the end which leaves them with just two wins from their last ten games and a sense that they are drifting badly. They are now seven points adrift of the leaders Manchester United and the Benitez bounce has just not materialised. Fernando Torres still looks like a lost lamb. There still appears to be a general bewilderment about how it could be rescued. At least the anti-Benitez rebellion was not in quite so strong a voice as it was on Sunday. As for Fulham, they have not won in six league games either but this was a point that will have delighted them. They had a chance late on through John Arne Riise which, had it gone in, would have been tough on Chelsea who had most of the possession, albeit without much menace to it.
Benitez had started with Juan Mata and John Obi Mikel on the bench. Mata, arguably Chelsea's most influential player this season, stood out. It showed in Chelsea's limp first half performance too, that barely yielded a shot on target. On that subject, Torres stopped a cross from Oscar from the right on 30 minutes but hit it with his left foot straight at Mark Schwarzer.
That was pretty much the best of it from Chelsea before the break. They had lots of the ball but Fulham were never stretched or looked like they might be on the rack. And they also had Dimitar Berbatov, a towering figure amongst the mortals, but who can rarely be lifted out of his indifference to cover the yards needed.
Eventually, Benitez had no option but to send on Mata after the hour. Much of what followed was more of the same: a lot of running to provide the crosses for a non-existent 30-goal-a-season centre-forward to convert. Torres is not that man.
Benitez threw on Marko Marin at the end, only the second appearance of his Chelsea career. He is not yet the game-changer that was needed but there were plenty of others in blue shirts who can consider themselves to have come up short.
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