Rafa Remakes Chelsea in his Own Zonal Way

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In a moment of desperation, Chelsea turned to Rafa Benitez. Yes, Rafa Benitez. The former manager of Liverpool. The eternal ill-speaker of club owners (and employers). The colossal failure at Inter. Why? Well, few mid-season options were available. When you promote your assistant coach to coach as a mid-season replacement, it really complicates the following season when you fire your current coach. Thus, Benitez.

For his part, Rafa’s Chelsea started with two draws and a loss, but has now won two consecutive games. More importantly, Benitez has started to mold Chelsea in his image. The man loves zonal marking on set pieces. However, his zonal schemes just may push Chelsea’s veterans over the edge.

First and foremost, Rafa’s love of zones is not constricted to set pieces or even the pitch. In fact, Rafa’s first move as Chelsea manager had nothing to do with the field inside Stamford Bridge, but, rather, the parking lot outside. Spanish players such as Juan Mata and Fernando Torres complained that the players’ parking lot was a hectic, disorganized, and often chaotic mess. Thus, Rafa put his foot down and instituted a system of “zonal parking.”

Chelsea’s veteran players grew confused and then angry.They were used to the traditional “car-to-parking space” system which focused more on individual marking than territorial positioning. They failed to grasp the alleged nuances of Benitez’s system. Before and after training, the parking lot was still a mess. Some of the players would park in perfect harmony, but Ashley Cole sideswiped John Terry’s car on at least two occasions. However, both blamed Ivanovic for failing to properly cover his zone. On top of that, Sky Sports got wind of the zonal change and has been criticizing it ever since.

Eventually, Benitez caved and returned to the traditional English “car-to-parking space” system. However, the damage was done. He lost credibility with new and old players alike for the failed implementation of his zoning system. More importantly, players continue to fluff their parking assignments, often leading to wide open parking spaces at critical moments.

Rafa then shot himself in the further with an even more controversial “zonal barking system.” Chelsea fans will be intimately familiar with the diagram below: you can clearly see Lampard walking around center, yelling orders. You can also see Terry trotting about the back line, shouting at teammates.

The central location of Terry and Lampard allowed their voices to carry in all directions. Even if they may have lost a step (or two or three), their voices still travel considerably faster than Ramires runs. Of course, David Luiz’s hair has at times insulated his ears from Terry’s orders. However, on the whole, the free-floating “barking system” of Di Mateo served the team well.

Enter Benitez. He noticed that after about twenty minutes of walking, Lampard and Terry started to breath heavily and it interfered with their yelling. Thus, he instituted a highly structured zonal barking system for them. From the bench.

Neither player has taken kindly to the new system. Both “have an injury” according to the club’s press releases, but rumors swirl that Lampard and Terry detest Benitez and want out. An MLS payday? An exodus to China? Who knows. Yet Rafa has not just rubbed the two club icons the wrong way.

In an effort to build team-bonding, Benitez gathered the team and invited everybody to his house for a movie. He selected an action-adventure film from the 1980′s, directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring Harrison Ford.The evening started off well, with the players engrossed in the film and slowly getting to know Rafa. However, after only fifteen minutes, Benitez turned off the film, pulled out a chalkboard, and began to try and explain what had just happened on the film, and then apply it to the team’s performances on the pitch.

The players rolled their eyes in unison. A few left before he finished speaking. Only Rafa Benitez could come up with this crap, some mumbled under their breath.

That’s right. Zonal Raiders of the Lost Arking.

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2 thoughts on “Rafa Remakes Chelsea in his Own Zonal Way

    • Ranners,

      I’m confused. I thought only true blue Chelsea supports mocked and disliked Rafa Benitez.

      Regardless, I am neither a Chelsea nor Arsenal supporter. Read my Podolski post from a few weeks back (with similar tactical insight).