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Beleaguered Benitez

Only at Chelsea could a manager be under pressure just three games into a new tenure but that's the situation Rafa Benitez finds himself in. Further bad news is that Matt Stanger thinks none of the problems that need to be put right can be solved easily...

Image: Rafael Benitez: Feeling the heat in West London

Matt Stanger pinpoints Chelsea's shortcomings and it doesn't make good reading for Rafa Benitez.

A week in which Rafa Benitez claimed Chelsea can still win the title ended with a second-half performance against West Ham that questioned whether the Blues can even remain in the top four. After three matches, two points and just one goal under Benitez, Chelsea have slipped an enormous ten points behind Manchester United at the top of the table and the pressure on the interim manager shows no sign of abating. Benitez has problems. Big problems. "To win. Simple," was the manager's response when he was asked what he needs to do to get protesting fans on side after Chelsea's 3-1 defeat, and Wednesday's visit of Nordsjaelland can't come soon enough. Chelsea's shortcomings are clear - they lack leadership, a regular goalscorer and defensive resolve. All three were factors on Saturday when a promising first-half performance was thrown away with barely any resistance after the break. Perhaps the only surprising aspect of the game was that Chelsea started in such enterprising fashion. Both teams had won just one of their previous six matches before the clash at Upton Park, but the Blues looked full of confidence as they carved open the Hammers at will in the early stages. With Juan Mata returning to the starting line-up, Chelsea found the attacking threat that was absent in the 0-0 draws with Man City and Fulham and the Spaniard's opening goal was nothing more than they deserved. But there was an air of complacency about Benitez's team and after dominating possession and creating numerous chances, they should really have extended their lead before half time. "When you are in control you have to take your chances and finish the game," said Benitez in his post-match interview. "In the first half we could have scored two or three goals." If Chelsea were genuine title challengers, they would have put the match beyond a West Ham team that looked shot of confidence in the first half. But Fernando Torres again failed to fire - despite his assist for Mata's opening goal - and Chelsea were forced to rely on Benitez's improvement of the team's defensive resolve to try and eke out a victory. Sam Allardyce also recognised Chelsea's early domination, and he responded to his team's inept display by introducing Mohamed Diame and Matthew Taylor at the interval. The changes instantly injected life into the Hammers and as they exploited their opponent's weakness in centre midfield, it was obvious that a turnaround was on the cards. With John Terry and Frank Lampard currently sidelined, Chelsea are desperately lacking leaders in the first XI and Benitez was required to constantly bellow instructions from the touchline as he tried to encourage his team to stand firm. The manager was also culpable in Chelsea's startling disintegration in the second half, though, as he failed to address his team's change in fortunes. While the impressive Diame was driving past Ramires and John Obi Mikel with ease, Benitez appeared to ignore the midfielder's impact, instead opting only to make two like-for-like changes with Oscar replacing Eden Hazard and Marko Marin coming on for Victor Moses. Perhaps Benitez looked at the defensive options on the bench - Oriol Romeu and Ryan Bertrand - and decided that the best thing he could do was to try and maintain the team's existing shape. However, with West Ham repeatedly forcing Chelsea onto the back foot, the manager should have acted to stem the tide. After arriving at Chelsea just ten days ago, Benitez is still learning the strengths and weaknesses of his squad and he may have thought Oscar and Marin could provide the inspiration that was needed. But he has now realised the true extent of the Blues' vulnerability and will have to work swiftly to try and improve all areas of the team. In some ways, Wednesday's clash against Nordsjaelland is the perfect fixture for Chelsea to gain a much-needed confidence boost. But can they really hope to improve without having their defensive resolve tested again? One thing is certain; Chelsea must start winning soon if they are to save Benitez from both the wrath of fans and embarrassment in his title tilt assertion. This article first appeared on Football365.

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