Early Doors

Boring Chelsea doing Benitez few favours

At least Chelsea fans waited until the end of the match to boo last night, and by then they were well within their rights to do so.

There was no mass showing of discontent this time when Rafa Benitez made his way to the dugout, none of the personal abuse that marked his first game against Manchester City. Yet Chelsea fans were still pushed to signal their displeasure with the new manager and his team after another wholly unsatisfactory 90 minutes that brought only a 0-0 home draw with Fulham.

The facts - and we know how much Rafa loves facts - make for stark reading. Chelsea have never before gone three games without a goal during the Roman Abramovich era. The last time they had two successive 0-0 draws in the league was September 2004.

Just two games into his reign and it appears Benitez has succeeded in one thing that few thought was possible: sucking the joy out of this Chelsea side. Like some kind of Spanish, tactics-obsessed, iPad-wielding Dementor.

It shouldn't be possible to neuter this Chelsea side, not with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata lining up in midfield and the notoriously flaky David Luiz at the back. There should be goals all over the place - but chances so far have been at a premium, with just four shots on target across two games under Benitez so far.

Former Real Madrid sporting director Jorge Valdano famously said in 2007 that watching Benitez's Liverpool take on Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in a Champions League semi-final was like watching "s*** on a stick".

Well, the current fare is not much better. Perhaps we should not be surprised when a combination of Chelsea and Benitez begins to stink the place out.

It is very early in the Benitez reign but it is clear that he has sought to tighten things up: that much was evident when he played Ryan Bertrand ahead of Juan Mata last night, with Oriol Romeu also replacing John Obi Mikel.

A team that played with such freedom at the start of the season under Roberto Di Matteo has been replaced by a more rigid side. Perhaps this will ultimately pay dividends - after all it certainly did for Di Matteo last season as a more negative brand of football following Andre Villas-Boas's departure brought Chelsea the Champions League - but it isn't pretty at the moment.

Early Doors did have to stifle a giggle when hearing their fans sing "We want our Chelsea back" though.

If they meant a Jose Mourinho-era Chelsea then surely that is exactly what they have got: a team that favours caution over enterprise. This is Chelsea's default setting, and both Villas-Boas and Di Matteo paid with their jobs when trying to change it, presumably at the owner's behest.

Anyway, it now seems Abramovich has compromised on his dream of creating a Barcelona clone in West London, for now at least.

As Benitez explained prior to last night's game: "I have spent some time with Roman, and we were not talking about the Barcelona style. He wants to see his team play well. We watched the Under-21s yesterday with Michael Emenalo. John Terry and him and we were talking about the opposition players. Roman says he wants to see the team playing well, but not with the Barcelona style. He knows we don't have [Leo] Messi, Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta, players who have been working together for years. We have different players.

"I think we can play attacking and defensive football together. We have to find the balance. We have to give the ball to them to create, that's our main issue - how do we link with them and give them the freedom to perform and do well, but be organised as a team also."

Chelsea have always been a rather unlovable club, but under Di Matteo you could at least admire the way they played. Games like the 3-2 win at home to Shakhtar Donetsk were thrilling displays of attack. After that particular match, games involving Chelsea were averaging 4.05 goals. There was a strong case that Stamford Bridge hosted the most entertaining team in England. No longer.

Just when Chelsea could do with an entertaining team to lift the gloom around the club, they are stuck in a rut. Still, it probably won't matter too much if it brings them renewed success, at least in Abramovich's eyes.

"The main thing is to win games," Benitez said last night. "If we do, we'll be there and we can win competitions. We need to start doing that and the confidence will come back."

With two wins in 10 it is clear that Chelsea do need to find that winning feeling again, but at the moment they are just providing more ammunition for a group of supporters that need little provocation to start booing.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Steven Gerrard was assaulted for the first one. It was frightening how the ref didn't give it. And then he missed Luis Suarez getting kicked by William Gallas. It's incredible that we haven't had a penalty all season. I don't know what the players have to do to get one. Everything went against us because Clint Dempsey dived to win the free-kick that led to Gareth Bale scoring their second goal." - Brendan Rodgers's nice guy act appears to be slipping with Liverpool 12th in the table following a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham.

FOREIGN VIEW: Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas has rallied behind Jose Mourinho after the Portuguese coach was whistled by some home fans during a Copa del Rey match at the Bernabeu. The split over Mourinho, under pressure after his side slipped 11 points behind leaders and arch rivals Barcelona in La Liga, was evident as some supporters whistled when others chanted his name in a 3-0 second-leg win against third-tier Alcoyano that sent Real through to the last 16 7-1 on aggregate. "I think a couple of months ago the people that were whistling yesterday were the people who were clapping and cheering when we won the league," Casillas said. "Memories are short in football and maybe people do not remember who led the team to win the record breaking league title: most goals, most points."

COMING UP: We bring you our Premier League Team of Midweek, as well as delving into the world of Hot or Not once again. Jan Molby files his latest column and we publish the first portion of our two-part interview with Ipswich Town manager Mick McCarthy.