It had to be said quietly, but after Rafa Benitez and his Chelsea team had notched up four straight wins, including impressive performances against Aston Villa and Everton, the vitriol surrounding his appointment was beginning to simmer slightly. However, it could be a classic case of one step forward, three giant leaps back after a winning goal from a ghost of Premier League past lead to an extremely disappointing loss against QPR on Wednesday. Under Benitez, Chelsea have now played eight, won four, drawn two and lost two in the league, whilst retaining a 100% record in his single games in charge in the Champions League and Capital One Cup.
You would probably describe that as a resonable return, with the positives coming in large from their defensive improvements, the slight rediscovery of Fernando Torres and the re-positioning of David Luiz. But it is the defeats to Corinthians, West Ham and now QPR that have once again increased the pressure on the Tinkerman (mark II). Liverpool fans know all too well about the Spaniard's preference for mixing things up. At one stage in his career at Anfield, he went 99 games without fielding the same team in consecutive matches. But making four changes to a side that put in an extremely effective, 'Benitez-esque' performance against Everton, was questionable considering the current stance of the supporters.
It is even more dumbfounding when you consider the fact that the team doesn't have another league fixture for nine days. It must be said though that games over the Christmas period come thick and fast, so changes are often a necessity and Chelsea should have comfortably had enough to swat aside a QPR side, who were utterly dreadful in their previous outing against Liverpool. Harry Redknapp stoked the flames before the game by claiming only a 'real dope' would fail given the quality of players at Benitez's disposal, and whilst many Chelsea fans wouldn't usually find themselves agreeing with the QPR manager, I imagine they can add far more expressive ways of voicing such opinions.
But deep down is this the result the Blues fans are really after? Quite simply put, considering their current mindset, would supporters rather see the club fail with Benitez at the helm under the assurance that he'll get sacked, rather than see them prevail with the risk that he could stay permanently? Benitez claims in his recent book Champions League Dreams, written about his spell with Liverpool, that he approaches every single game with the same level of preparation and dedication. Though whilst famous victories against both Milan teams, Barcelona and Madrid will spring to mind for Reds fans, the reminders of disappointing performances against Burnley, Birmingham and Middlesbrough are not far behind.
Ultimately it's not always the victories you look back on at the end of the season, but the losses that could have changed final positions. With that in mind, Wednesday night's loss to basement dwellers QPR will not be forgotten any time soon by fans. Next up is Southampton in the FA Cup before a tricky remainder of the month sees them face Swansea twice in the Capital One Cup semi-finals with games at Stoke and Arsenal at home sandwiched in between. The imminent signing of Demba Ba, whilst perhaps not the marquee signing of Falcao, is a sensible move as the powerful Senegalese frontman has the necessary qualities and attributes to fill the lone man position that Torres has struggled with so much. What will become of the weary Spanish striker remains to be seen, but with the departure of Daniel Sturridge to Liverpool, it doesn't appear he'll be going anywhere in January.
One thing Chelsea fans will hopefully be grateful for come the end of the season, and perhaps Benitez's tenure, is a contract extension for their mercurial midfielder Frank Lampard. Thrusting Lampard back into the fold and allowing him to roam on in the knowledge that Ramires and Luiz will mop up behind him has galvinated the ageing midfielder, and rightfully put him back in the spotlight again. Whether Lampard and Ashley Cole get new contracts or not is a decision that will not be made by Benitez but by the bods up in the boardroom, these of course being the same people that sacked Di Matteo. Perhaps they're the ones that should instead be feeling the heat. Without question, Benitez wants the best for Chelsea and the fans should too.
So what if Rafa said a few disparaging comments about the club in the past? It's to be expected when at the time one of his biggest rivals and contenders at Liverpool were the Blues. If everybody in the game constantly kept tight-lipped for fear that they may one day, somewhere down the line, upset a future employer, then it would all be extremely dull. Whilst the loss to QPR was poor, only a week ago they were back in the title race after already being cast aside, so things can change again very quickly.
If Benitez does succeed at Stamford Bridge, then it should be celebrated as it will have been achieved in a difficult situation. But it's a situation that could be made easier by the support of those that can, and should, help - the fans. Rich Kitto