Rafael Benitez's homework paying off as Chelsea comfortably beat Wigan

Chelsea 4 Wigan Athletic 1

We came to bury Rafael Benitez, not to praise him, but Chelsea’s interim head coach dodged the bullet again and is perhaps due some credit. He may be ignored by his boss, reviled by his club’s supporters and dismissed by the media, but Benitez, most of the time, does know what he is doing.

This is a man who has kept videos and notes of every match and training session he has taken since his days with the Real Madrid youth team three decades ago. In his office at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, in the basement of his home on the Wirral, and even in his parents’ attic in Spain, he has perhaps the most extensive tactical library of any man alive. Benitez may be at risk of over-complicating things, but he is not making it up on the hoof.

Saturday’s defeat of Wigan Athletic was a case in point even if the margin was flattering. Wigan like to pass out from the back with a three-man defence. So Chelsea pressed high up the pitch, denying them the chance to build possession. Fernando Torres is a blunt instrument these days, as three bad misses illustrated, but when it comes to the mundane business of closing down defenders he remains as assiduous as Ian Rush.

Having won the ball Chelsea looked to hurt Wigan in wide areas knowing the visitors would have pushed their wing-backs forward. Their first two goals came by attacking that vulnerability.

Then there is the conversion of David Luiz from wayward defender to influential midfielder. The Brazilian’s ability to intercept, honed by his years in defence, is just as valuable when shielding the back four while his penchant for breaking forward with the ball – which led to Chelsea’s opening goal, carries far less risk in this new position. It will be interesting to see who Benitez prefers in the role when John Obi Mikel returns from the African Nations Cup

Benitez’s problem is that he has inherited a squad that understandably appears confused. The management chaos surrounding Chelsea has left everyone looking over their shoulders, a situation which is not conducive to building the collective belief a successful team needs. While their salaries may insulate footballers from economic pressures insecurity still stalks every dressing room, it is the nature of the business. And when the club seem intent of getting shot of Frank Lampard - despite his re-invention of himself as a deep-lying midfielder without any apparent loss of goalscoring potency - team-mates will inevitably wonder about their own place in the grand scheme of things.

That anxiety reared its head when Wigan threatened to equalise but, thanks to Lampard’s 198 goal for the club, Chelsea this time closed the game out. 

Wigan’s Roberto Martinez, having lost this Spanish coaching duel, was left to hope his team’s annual spring revival will be repeated again. They are still to play the three strugglers around them with their next league match, at Reading on 23 February, looming ever larger.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas