Wednesday's game against Swansea was a massive disappointment for most of the Chelsea fanbase. Losing 2-0 at home is never a result that fans want to see, especially when it was a game in which Chelsea dominated possession of the ball. One of the most notable things in yesterday's game was how much better we looked in the final 10 minutes than we did for the first 80. Not surprisingly, that improvement would seem to be directly attributable to the removal of Fernando Torres and replacing him with Demba Ba.
In his brief time on the pitch, Ba provided a target for crosses and managed to put several headed balls on goal. He found the back of the netonce, but that effort was ruled offside, and he put tremendous pressure on the referee when he went down in the box after getting free behind the defense. Individually, any of these four contributions were better than anything Torres did all game. Collectively, it just reinforced how far Torres has fallen.
The improvement was clear to every single member of the press, every fan in the stadium, and every single person watching on television or the internet worldwide. Rafa was naturally asked about the improvement after the change, and had the following to say about it:
Benitez asked if Chelsea looked more dangerous in the last 10 minutes with Ba than in the previous 80 with Torres. "No, I don't think so."— Dan Levene (@BluesChronicle) January 9, 2013
That answer is obviously going to raise a few eyebrows, as comparing the performances of the pair were like comparing night and day. Chelsea looked far, far more dangerous with Ba on the pitch than they did at any point with Fernando Torres, and I'm sure even Benitez saw this clearly.
With that said, I don't really have an issue with Benitez not giving the media more ammunition. As long as some of his notes include the fact that Ba was infinitely better than Torres on Wednesday, I have very little issue with him not publicly chastising him.
To date, I see very little reason to believe that Rafa Benitez has been an upgrade to Roberto Di Matteo. In his 20 games in charge this season, Di Matteo lost 5 times while keeping only 5 clean sheets. In 14 games against generally weaker opposition, Benitez has already lost 4 and kept only 4 clean sheets. This season, Di Matteo's Chelsea were held scoreless just twice. Yesterday marked the fifth time in the Benitez era that Chelsea have failed to find the back of the net.
While I'll likely never be convinced that sacking Di Matteo for Benitez was the correct decision for the club, Rafa does have a golden opportunity now to due the club a huge favor. Benitez has a clear opportunity this season that Di Matteo never did, as he has been given a viable (and healthy) alternative to Fernando Torres at center forward. By using Demba Ba, he has a legitimate opportunity to improve the results without having to drastically alter the squads tactics.
For the long term good of the team, Rafa Benitez has a real opportunity to do what three other managers probably never could. Where Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, and Roberto Di Matteo all made the obvious choice and dropped a seemingly washed up Torres for another option, none of them had history with the striker and there were questions on whether they were using him correctly*.
*In my opinion, all of these questions were ridiculous, but they were asked anyway
Benitez has worked with Torres before, and it's hard to make an argument that he doesn't know exactly how to get the best out of the player. With that history, it should be impossible for Roman Abramovich to put Torres' continued failure on the manager should he make the obvious decision to start Ba in his place. Should Rafa drop Torres in favor of other options, it would be as clear an indictment that Torres is just done as anyone could possibly give our owner.
I don't really care what Benitez says in public, but he's got a real opportunity to earn some respect from the fans here. It's as clear as day to anyone watching that Torres is not helping Chelsea win games at all, for Rafa to begin earning the fans' respect, acknowledging this fact with his actions would be an excellent first step.
Unless Chelsea buy another striker, Torres is still going to have to play occasionally. Ba is cup-tied for the Europa League, and he'll occasionally need a game off as well. It's on Rafa to pick some spots where we can get by without a center forward to rest him now, as it should no longer be a discussion as to who gives the team a better chance to win is.
I've never been a fan of the hiring of Rafa Benitez, but in this regard, he's the perfect man for the job. If Rafa Benitez just sits down Fernando Torres for our bigger games, it should send a crystal clear signal to those above him that he isn't a player that they should be relying on. Literally nobody on the planet could send that message as clearly as Benitez, and it will be done by his actions instead of his words. In this regard, Rafa Benitez was an absolutely perfect hire.
Start Demba Ba against Stoke City, start him against Southampton, and start him again yet against Reading. These games need to take priority to the cups, and it's time to pull the plug on the Fernando Torres experiment. This is how you can earn the respect of Chelsea fans Rafa. Start Demba Ba, and you may quiet the critics. Stop using Fernando Torres as much, and I'd guess the results will also improve.