Rafael Benitez’s substitutions during the 2-2 draw against Andre Villas’ Tottenham received a lot of criticism from the club’s fans as they feel as though is was a missed opportunity to secure a top four place.
The interim Chelsea manager offered an explanation to the changes he made late in the second half as Eden Hazard was replaced with Victor Moses whilst the decision to take off the excellent Oscar for Yossi Benayoun was met with a chorus of boos.
“I needed to make substitutions in the wide areas because we were a little tired in those positions and Spurs are fast there.”
I can understand the reason for taking Hazard off as he’s been suffering with a slight calf injury and limped off after being kicked about by Tottenham’s defenders. It was the right thing to do as risking his fitness with three matches remaining – including a Europa League final – wouldn’t be the wisest of moves. Granted Moses was poor as he traded turns with Ashley Cole in giving the ball away on the left-hand side.
But it was Benitez’s decision to bring on Benayoun – Arsenal’s badge-kisser and cheerleader of last season – during the closing stages instead of Stamford Bridge legend Frank Lampard.
This was more of a must-not-lose than a must win for Chelsea and I can understand his logic as he wanted mobile players to help bolster the wide areas and Frank can be as guilty as David Luiz for ball watching when it comes to the defensive duties in the middle of the park, but it was the wrong choice of player and an error on the manager’s part.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but to me it looked as though we were struggling to hold onto, especially in central midfield, so it’s a pity that John Obi Mikel wasn’t around to provide a bit of composure in the central areas. Perhaps Nathan Ake could have been used to shore up that area in his absence, but why leave Demba Ba on the bench?
If you can’t hold onto the ball then you would normally resort to kicking it long and if you’re going to do that then you may as well bring on your best forward in terms of aerial abilities.
It was unfortunate for us that Emmanuel Adebayor decided to have his one decent game of the season against us and it isn’t the manager’s fault that their equaliser came after the Togolese player should have been flagged for offside but luckily Gareth Bale was deeply snuggled into Cesar Azpilicueta’s pocket preventing the Spurs talisman from capitalising on a tiring Chelsea defence.
Benitez made the wrong calls in terms of changes from the bench and although his opposite number made effective ones, it isn’t likely to be enough for Spurs as they are relying on either us or Arsenal to capitulate over the next two games. If we were offered four points ahead of the matches against Manchester United and Tottenham then we’d have most likely have taken it. One more win against Aston Villa or Everton and we’re home and dry, whilst the north London clubs could drop points yet anyway.