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Monday 26 November 2012

Craig Burley: Rafael Benitez won't throw caution to the wind

PLTV pundit and former Chelsea player predicts cagey approach from Rafa Benitez against Man City

  • Craig Burley wonders whether David Luiz's defending will improve under Rafa Benitez

Ahead of the Chelsea-Manchester City, where Rafael Benitez will take charge of the Blues for the first time, premierleague.com caught up with former Chelsea player and now PLTV pundit Craig Burley for his assessment of how the match will unfold.

What do you make of the appointment of Rafa Benitez and what do you think he will be able to bring to Chelsea?

Craig Burley: There are no personnel changes that can be made before January. His arrival’s not been met with great approval from the majority of the supporters and that’ll be an interesting baptism for him on Sunday and everyone keeps saying that he’s the man that brought the best out of Fernando Torres but he was at the height of his game when he first arrived here from Atletico Madrid in around 2007.

"For Rafa Benitez nothing other than a win against Manchester City will suffice"
Craig Burley

So it’s going to be difficult and nothing other than wins for Rafa will suffice because he’s got such a negative effect on the supporters, but it’s an opportunity for him that’s too good to turn down. From all of what he’s said in the past in his Liverpool days doesn’t really matter. To manage Chelsea at the moment, even with Abramovich as the owner, is too good to turn down.

It’s a win-win situation for Benitez, isn’t it?
Well, it’s a great opportunity like the one that Roberto Di Matteo had. I was the only one of the PLTV pundits who wasn’t surprised [that he was sacked]. I was surprised that they were surprised. You’ve only got to look at the owner’s record and the way he manages things – it’s his right to do so – so I wasn’t surprised.

It’s rebuilt Roberto Di Matteo’s stock in the game because getting sacked from Chelsea is no black mark against your name – it’s an occupational hazard. If it doesn’t work out for Benitez after six months he can say it was only a short-term contract and he only ever planned to be around until the summer, which I’m sure he doesn’t.

But there’s also a side to it that could prove to be quite disastrous because if it doesn’t work out for him, if the players aren’t performing or there are injuries or he has no recruits in January it could get quite messy for him, so there is a small chance that that might happen but I’m sure he’s happy to take that risk.

Torres saviour?

Fernando Torres said, after joining Chelsea, “Rafa Benítez has been the most important coach in my career. He has been the only one who knew how to help me improve.” Do you think Benitez can help Torres improve?
The short answer is: I don't think so. He can get him in and talk to him and tell him what he’s after and try and control him little bit but, at the end of the day, Fernando Torres is not making the right runs, he’s been looking like he’s a bit of a lost soul; his touch is not there, he’s lost his pace and, apart from a short spell at the start of the season, his form has been disastrous.

Now he’s got Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Ramires who are there to provide for him and we’re still looking for the remedy for this problem. Unfortunately the problem is aligned to the player himself. I don’t see how a manager coming in and putting an arm around you is going to make everything all sweetness and light again.

As a former player, what is the mood in the camp like when a new manager takes over? How does it affect you as a player? What will the Chelsea players be thinking today?
The first thing the Chelsea players be thinking will be, what does he think of me as a player? Does he fancy me, am I going to play, am I his type of player? Because as good a player as you might think you are as an individual, every manager has got a different opinion, a different way of doing things, likes different personalities.

So first and foremost you’ve got to hope – that’s if you want to stay at the club but 99% of the players do – that you’re going to play a part and you’re going to be able to work and get on with this manager because it is important to strike up some sort of relationship around the training ground and during the 90 minutes on the pitch.

"I’ve always said that coaching is one part of the game but man-management is a huge part of the game"
Craig Burley

I’ve always said that coaching is one part of the game but man-management is a huge part. So the players will have heard lots about Rafa Benitez – some good, some bad – and now they’re going to see first-hand how he operates. There’s always a bit of trepidation from the players that all things good might turn bad when the new manager comes along but everybody’s got a different opinion.

Benitez caution

Benitez has a reputation for being a studious tactician and he has been a devotee of 4-2-3-1 formation ever since his Extremadura and Tenerife days. How do you think he will set Chelsea up against Man City?
CB:
He’ll be a bit cautious because we have to bear in mind the reception he’ll get from the Chelsea supporters. He’ll know that he can’t afford to lose the game and he won’t want to be embarrassed, so it’ll be interesting to see if the three playmakers that have played the bulk of this season all play. I would imagine not, purely for that reason.

We might see Ramires a bit further forward - it depends on injuries as well - but the system won’t change a great deal. A lot of the players in the Barclays Premier League play a similar system: it’s very rarely anybody plays two up front because all the top teams from club to country these days tend to play with one striker and the extra bodies in midfield; that’s nothing new.

So I don’t think he’ll tinker too much. We get a bit too carried away with tactics, at the end of the day, football’s quite a simple game; it’s about Benitez getting the best out of the players he’s got and tactics will take of themselves.

Benitez’s teams always looked to work hard and win the ball high up the pitch. Do you think Chelsea have enough ball-winners and hard-working players to get the better of Mancini’s men?

CB: Well this was always going to be the issue for Roberto Di Matteo, and, going back to that briefly, I don’t think Di Matteo was sacked because of results. The owner might have made his mind up that he wanted a change, but Di Matteo trying to find the balance was difficult.

At times it looked great and at other times, like the game against Manchester United at home when United really tore Chelsea to shreds, there we saw part of the problem of Chelsea without the ball with Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Torres in the side. They really got hammered for 45 minutes by a rampant United at the Bridge.

So it’s about striking the balance and that’s why he will have a decision to make regarding his personnel and which way he plays for that reason on Sunday. Because if he gets it wrong and City give them a bit of a going-over, he’s going to find his first seven days in the job pretty torturous.

For all their European travails, Manchester City are flying high at the top of the Barclays Premier League, will we see the City that won 5-0 against Aston Villa last weekend again at Stamford Bridge on Sunday?

CB: The Villa game was a bit closer than the scoreline might have suggested.

"If they start clicking, which they haven’t yet, then the rest have to worry"
Craig Burley

Sleeping giant

City have started to play a bit better, they’ve struggled and been pretty inconsistent for most of the season but they’ve still been able to churn out results and that should serve as a bit of a warning and a worry for the rest that we haven’t seen the City in full flow of last season.

Now that the pressure of the Champions League has gone because they’re out, their full focus will be on the barclays Premier League and if they start clicking, which they haven’t yet, the rest have to worry. And if they do, they’re too good for Chelsea. The two Manchester clubs are still a cut above.

Mancini has tinkered with different formations between and during matches, such as against Real Madrid in midweek, what formation do you think would suit City best at Stamford Bridge?

CB: I still think a back four. I know they played a back three against Real Madrid in midweek and changed it again and experimented with a back three in other games and changed it again. I don’t know if it’s because in his own country at the moment Juve, Inter and at times Udinese have all played with three at the back, which is a hark-back to the old days.

It has worked for Juventus in winning the Italian title and I wonder if that’s influenced him at all in adopting it on several occasions this season. But every time I see City play that way they lose goals so I don’t think it works. If I were a City fan I’d think, ‘Let’s get back to basics, putting round pegs in round holes, because if we do that, man for man, in terms of the squad, we’ve probably got the best in the division.'  That’ll be enough to them through.

Mancini has rotated his strikers recently between Balotelli, Tevez, Dzeko and Aguero. Who do you think should get the nod against Chelsea?

CB: Everybody’s still of the opinion that when Aguero and Tevez play it’s the best partnership. I know if were having this discussion in the room and Balotelli and Dzeko were there, they would certainly disagree but that’s the best way for them to go. With Balotelli there always seems to be a story with him and Mancini or him and anything else.

I’m a big fan of Dzeko but he reminds me of Javier Hernandez in as much as whenever he starts it doesn’t seem to happen for him but whenever he comes off the bench it just seems to spark him into life and for that reason Mancini sees him as an impact player at the moment.

Also, with him there I don’t think Chelsea’s big two centre-halves would mind a physical battle with the Dzekos of this world but they would probably prefer not to have the movement and uncertainty of Tevez and Aguero so it’ll be interesting to see if that’s the way Mancini goes, but certainly that’s his best pairing.

Silva lining?

Mancini welcomed David Silva back after a month-long absence last weekend for the 5-0 win. How important is he to City’s fortunes against Chelsea?

Neither David Silva nor Yaya Toure quite started the season like they performed for 90% of last season. When you take that out of the game … Yaya is a big threat and Silva, some might say it was the Euros, some might say he’s been carrying injury problems, maybe he lost a bit of form.

"You never keep quality down and when Toure and Silva are in top form you’ve got to fancy City for the win"
Craig Burley

But he certainly didn’t look at the start of the season the player we’ve become accustomed to. But you never keep quality like that down and when the likes of Toure and Silva are in top form and you’ve got Aguero and Tevez in that side, you’ve got to fancy City for the win.

It’s a bit much for the players, if the likes of Silva are carrying a problem, there’s no point in forcing him. These guys need rest because they play a lot of football. City have got a long, hard slog ahead of them this season. Mancini needs to make sure he rotates his players and rests them at the right time and if he does so, we’ll start to see the best of David Silva again.

Do you think Silva can benefit from the fact Chelsea are missing John Terry?

It’ll be an interesting call. I wonder from the outside how Benitez has viewed David Luiz. Many look at it and think, ‘Talented footballer but you just don’t get the art of defending’ – certainly not in this league.

As a student of the game Benitez will have noticed all these things so it’ll be interesting to see whether he tries to shuffle that pack, even without Terry, whether that means Ivanovic partnering Cahill or whether Azpilicueta plays and whether he shuffles things around just to get David Luiz not to play or maybe – like people have said with Torres – he will come in and make him play better again he’ll have an influence on him.

Maybe he thinks, ‘I can teach this guy the basics.' Maybe he’ll say, ‘This is what you need to do first and foremost and everything else is a bonus.'

So it’ll go one of two ways, he’ll either just drop him and say, ‘You’re a liability’ or he’ll be working with him for the next week and say, ‘Look, you’re a good player, but maybe start doing this, that and the other.’

As well as up front and midfield there are lots of decisions to make because Chelsea’s problems don’t just lie in the striking department, they’ve also had issues across the back four.

So, if you had to stick your head on the block, who do you think will come up trumps on Sunday?

CB: If City fire, they’re too strong. They are the better of the two sides. It’ll be close because we’ll see a Chelsea side that are a bit more cautious because of the fear of defeat for Benitez. But ultimately if Mancini’s players are all ready and fit I can see City continuing to grind out results in the Premier League because that’s what they’ve been doing so far and we’re just starting to see them pick up a little bit of momentum.

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Key Points

  • Craig Burley believes Rafa Benitez needs to hit the ground running to win over the Chelsea fans
  • The PLP pundit believes the Spaniard will adopt a cautious appraoch against Manchester City on Sunday
  • Burley believes Barclays Premier League champions are ultimately too strong for Chelsea