Chelsea 4 Wigan 1
Rafa Benitez, at the least, sounded assured.
Chelsea, after all, had also been 2-0 up against both Southampton and Reading only to drop points. But, despite that, despite the crowd’s anxiety, despite Wigan’s pressure and despite the speculation about his own job, the Spaniard insisted he didn’t suffer a moment’s doubt after Shaun Maloney had cut their advantage.
“Today, at 2-1, I was quite confident.”
Throughout his career in England, of course, Benitez has earned a possibly unfair reputation as something of a contrarian. But, on Saturday, he kept it up in another way.
Because, while most at Stamford Bridge were talking about Frank Lampard, his contract situation and another goal that not only brought him closer to Bobby Tambling’s Chelsea record but also proved crucial in preventing Wigan completing that comeback, Benitez directed praise elsewhere.
According to the Spaniard, the players most responsible for a first win in five for Chelsea were less fashionable individuals like Cesar Azpilicueta, Ramires and David Luiz. Benitez felt they provided the balance and protection that were missing in previous games.
“We had different options. Luiz gave us balance in the middle. If you have to play with offensive players all the time and you concede, it can be a problem.
“You could see they did not have counter-attacks because we had better control. The most influential players today were Azpilicueta and Ramires.”
Beyond a laugh and another admission he has absolutely no input in any decision about the midfielder’s contract, Benitez only made one admission about his future.
“He can play in the World Cup [in 2014]. Every training session he is fine. He is a good professional, he is training well and, if he has no injuries, he can still play to a good level.”
To give Benitez some credence, it was actually Ramires and Azpilicueta who were crucial to the key first two goals.
The Brazilian lifted in the first after a flowing counter-attack and it was the right-back’s run that set up Eden Hazard for the second.
To a certain extent, though, the entire exchange illustrates many of Benitez’s problems at Chelsea and point to potential issues for the run-in.
Although the Spaniard was possibly misguided in accepting such a difficult job and has undeniably made mistakes, the club does him no favours in leaving him to answer questions he has absolutely no control over — such as about Lampard’s future.
Similarly, despite Chelsea’s riches, the squad is clearly imbalanced; overloaded with certain types of players, short in others — especially defensive midfield. At the same time, though, Benitez’s side ultimately won this game because they finally did what they couldn’t against Southampton and Reading.
Lampard hit the third before Wigan had the chance to grab a second. As such, Roberto Martinez’s side were never allowed to build a full head of steam after Maloney’s strike.
And, given Wigan’s predicament and current inability to actually win games, the question remains as to whether they can replicate last season’s impressive run-in.
“We know what we have to do to get positive results,” Martinez said. “I don’t see it as a pressure position I see it is a real exciting challenge to go ahead even if every year I want to be better every season and challenge for bigger and better positions.”
After Marko Marin got his first goal for the club to round off the win in stoppage time, Benitez struck a similar chord.
And his thoughts on whether Chelsea can stay in the top four?
“We are still confident.”
At the least, he has illustrated consistency there. His team must now do the same.
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