Chelsea vs Wigan used to be an expected cakewalk for the European Champions. Fans will have fond memories of this fixture, as it was the game that, back in 2010, secured us the title, as well as won Drogba the Golden Boot, in an 8-0 rout on the last day of the season. Unfortunately, under Rafael Benitez, no games are regarded with such airiness by fans any more. Under Benitez, Chelsea have handed QPR their first away win all season, lost humiliatingly to West Ham and Newcastle, to name but a few in a lengthy litany of cringe. Thus, if Chelsea fans have come to expect anything under Benitez, it is embarrassment and disappointment, and yesterday’s match represented perfect banana skin potential.
Thankfully, Chelsea won the game, with 80% of the match’s goals coming in the second half. 4-1 was undeservedly flattering to the west London club, who lost their composure somewhat after Shaun Maloney scored for the visitors to make it 2-1. Alarm bells went off in every Chelsea fans’ head, as we have surrendered two-goal leads against Southampton and Reading, but thankfully the players found the discipline that has been so lacking in past occasions to score two more goals towards the end, the last of which - a Marko Marin header - was a true collector’s item, and see a game through for once.
The last time Chelsea won 4-1 was back in October in the league against Norwich, also in the league, also at home. The similarities don’t just end there - Lampard got the second and Hazard the third goal on that occasion, and yesterday, Hazard scored the second, Lampard the third (I’m quite the geek when it comes to things like this). The Englishman and the Belgian both gave excellent performances and were integral to why Chelsea finished the game victorious.
Hazard’s return following his three-match ban for kicking overweight ballboy Charlie Morgan was a success, and look how much he was missed - in the three games he was out, Chelsea drew 2-2 with Brentford and Reading, and lost 3-2 to Newcastle. Obviously, partly why Chelsea fared so poorly in those games was due to conceding late goals, not something that the Belgian could have prevented - Hazard’s weakness in the game is not tracking back and fulfilling his defensive duties enough. But, the overall displays in those three games from Chelsea were less-than-enthralling, and Hazard’s invention was sorely missed.
Hazard’s assist for the third goal was the most important of the four Chelsea scored, because up until then, the home side had been discernibly nervous, knowing a Wigan equaliser could emerge any second. Lampard ran from far back afield to pick up Hazard’s cutback and power it to the net. The Englishman has 10 goals in the league for Chelsea now, making him joint top scorer in the league along with Mata. To put this figure in perspective, consider that Fernando Torres, who has started far more games than Lampard, only has seven.
Just like in the days when Andre Villas-Boas rarely played Lampard for no good reason other than “he’s old”, Frank Lampard is currently letting his football do all the talking. With each game that passes, Ron Gourlay and Bruce Buck’s decision not to renew his contract is looking more and more imbecilic. Yesterday’s crucial goal meant that in the last four league games Lampard has played in, he has also hit the net in. These goals sandwich his match-winning goal for England in mid-week, in which the Englishman atoned for a mistake from Chelsea teammate Gary Cahill which allowed the Brazilians to equalise.
And this truly is nothing new. Lampard has been carrying Chelsea and picking up the slack of his teammates for quite some time. My contempt towards Torres is no secret, and the Spaniard failed to score again yesterday, which highlights the foolishness of Benitez to start him, given that Torres has to play in mid-week as Ba will be cup-tied. It is a somewhat cruel, but not unmerited joke, that when Torres plays, Chelsea are essentially playing with ten men. Quietly, uncomplainingly, Frank makes up the extra person and scores the goals that the Spaniard can’t. All from defensive midfield.
While I may question pretty much everything that Benitez does (case in point – he put Benayoun on as a late sub against Reading, and it was Benayoun’s c**p marking that led Reading to equalise), his keenness to field Lampard has been a pleasant surprise, particularly given his comments as Liverpool manager saying that Frank was “overrated.” Part of the reason Lampard is seeing so much game time is that Benitez’s hand is being forced with Mikel still at the African Cup of Nations. But the Englishman is more than earning his starts on merit and not just circumstance. The fact that everyone, even the manager, who doesn’t even know anything, can see how valuable Lampard is to Chelsea, yet the board won’t extend his contract, epitomises everything that is wrong with my club.
Chelsea’s next game is a Valentine's Day tie against Sparta Prague in the Europa League. Ironically, this is far from the most romantic date, as all Chelsea fans will still be wondering how on earth we, the Champions of Europe (we’ll sing it 'til May, we’ll sing it 'til May, Champions of Europe, we’ll sing it 'til May) relinquished our position from playing against Europe’s finest to going in the second tier of the competition. The upside of this, of course, is that, in theory, it should be easier to win the Europa League, despite Chelsea having more games to play if they are to do so. Under Benitez, however, nothing is certain. We could either follow up our encouraging display against Wigan with another classy performance against the Czech side, or flop miserably. Whatever the result, all I know for certain is that Chelsea and Rafael Benitez represents one of the worst pairings of all time. Now there’s your “romance”.