While Rafa Benitez’s debut was overshadowed by the deep hatred of Chelsea FC supporters who conveniently forgot that the Roman Abramovich decided to sack Roberto Di Matteo and hire the former Liverpool manager, the numbers from Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at the bridge, while not necessarily representative, are at least encouraging.
Man City dominated, at least as far as Total Shots Ratio is concerned: Chelsea received a mediocre TSR of .400, and a TSOTR of 0.167. But this metric might tell a bit of the story of a single match, one can’t extrapolate for the entire season when there’s bound to be some fluctuation. Still, it’s clear Man City were the dominant side, with 105 attempted passes in Man City’s final third, compared to 174 in Chelsea’s final third.
Even so, there is evidence that even the single training session with Benitez may have had a positive impact on Chelsea’s defense in particular. First, while Man City dominated, they did so in part because of a superior defense that has allowed Mancini’s side to dominate in the Premier League all season. For one, Chelsea attempted 24 take-ons, with only six successful.
But there are a few indications that Chelsea effectively limited the damage beyond the 0-0 scoreline. For one, they managed 17 interceptions, a marked improvement over their average 13 per game (against Arsenal this season, who dominated in shots 16 to 10, they managed 11, and against Man United who equaled their 15 shots, they managed 13).
Finally, Man City managed 9 shots against Chelsea all game, with 5 on target. This was better than Chelsea, but it’s also their lowest shots total of the season in all comps. Chelsea’s improved interception/clearance rate indicates this might not necessarily be down to a City dip in form, either. Michael Cox offered some explanation for Chelsea’s defensive improvement today on the Guardian, and why it came at the cost of their normally hyperactive attack:
The more you assessed Chelsea, the more you noticed minor changes. In open play, there was increased discipline without the ball. Benítez is obsessed with his sides remaining compact from defence to attack, preventing the opposition from finding spaces between the lines.
Therefore, it was notable how Torres dropped into deeper positions alongside Oscar, making Chelsea almost a 4-4-2 without the ball – similar to what Torres did with Steven Gerrard towards the end of Benítez’s time at Anfield. This made it difficult for City to play easily through midfield but hampered Torres’s ability to collect balls in the channels, and was a microcosm of Benítez’s overall gameplan – he disrupted City’s attacking at the expense of his own side’s creative potential.
Still, within the stodginess is the hope that Chelsea’s unsustainable average of 12 shots conceded per game conceded will eventually go down, thereby raising Chelsea’s average TSR against sides that aren’t the Premier League champs.