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1
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1
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1
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1
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0
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6
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2
3
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5
3
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10
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2
2
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2
0
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2
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4
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2
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(4) 2
(3) 2
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(4) 1
(2) 1
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Next

Danny Welbeck will be worth the wait

Arsenal 18 hours ago
Read
Mar 2, 2013

Benitez beats the boo-boys

If ructions represent normality at Stamford Bridge, it was perhaps oddly appropriate that the day when rage was supposed to reach unprecedented heights that it all felt so flat and routine.

In the end the anger wasn't excessive and the performance wasn't exceptional, but the feared equaliser from West Brom never materialised.

Instead, Chelsea achieved the kind of home win that they would have expected, and the fans could breathe a sigh of relief that they remain on course for what should be a comfortable place in the top four.

Within all that, there were the general traits that we've come to associate with both Rafa Benitez's career at Chelsea and in general.

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Once his team went into the lead, he attempted to take "control" of the game rather than command of it, and there were a few substitutions which brought surprise. The result also brought a smile to Benitez's face. He entered his post-match press conference beaming.

When asked about that, the Spaniard insisted such happiness was the generally the case with him, saying: "Normally I am smiling. Normally!"

He wasn't, of course, on Wednesday at Middlesbrough. But, given that the anticipated cauldron of Stamford Bridge was at a mild heat rather than madly bubbling over and that the fans seemed to almost self-consciously resist the expectation they would be apoplectic, it could even have been argued that Benitez's tactic worked.

"I don't know," he said. "But I could see the players playing with more confidence and the fans behind the team. I will not talk too much about that but it was very good, very positive."

Well, as routine as the day went, it would be wrong to say it was completely positive. Part of the routine here now, after all, is negative chanting. And, other than at least six anti-Benitez banners, there were a number of very pointed chants - none more so than 'Rafa Benitez, we'll sing what we want'.

Indeed, there was a darkly comic moment in the second half when the home crowd implored each other to "stand up" if they hated the manager, only for Benitez himself to jump to his feet.

At the least, that proved it isn't just a stock deflection any time he insists he doesn't notice the chants because he is concentrating on his team.

His attempt at blocking it all out completely did reach a rather extreme turn, though, when asked about the very loud Jose Mourinho songs. "I was thinking about Demba Ba scoring the goal," he said.

That 28th-minute strike itself was the very essence of routine: a rehearsed set-piece. Oscar collected a short-corner, crossed for David Luiz and the defender nodded back for Ba to tap in.

Ben Foster could perhaps have done better for the goal but, had he been anything off top form for the rest of the game, it could have been much worse for West Brom and so much better for Chelsea.

The goalkeeper made a series of fine saves that had Steve Clarke being asked about the England position afterwards, and that only reflected the fact that Chelsea often rose well above the mundane. There were intervals when they were genuinely excellent, with Juan Mata once more a model of gloriously fluid influence. His touches both decorated and drove the game.

They still weren't enough, however, to completely decide it. Once again, it was as if Chelsea looked to just manage the game rather than make it certain.

Therein lies particular danger for Benitez and raises a few fair questions of his restrained approach. Because, given their recent history of blowing leads late on against lesser sides as well as the obvious apprehension - and potential for anger from the crowd - this was where West Brom could derive a bit of joy. It almost came to pass.

Although Steve Clarke insisted he hadn't mentioned the crowd to the team beforehand - in a clear attempt to deflect any questions about Benitez rather than Benitez - his actual explanation indicated otherwise and one West Brom player confirmed as much afterwards off the record. They wanted to maximise that sense of malice.

Clarke, for his part, didn't quite put it like that, saying: "We just spoke about the fact that, when you play a top team, you have to stay in the game as long as possible. The momentum can swing, the atmosphere becomes a bit nervous.

"We stayed in the game until the last minute today but couldn't quite get clear cut chances. You could feel the tension in the crowd."

That was certainly the case when Petr Cech had to make a desperate double save, or when Foster went up for a last-minute corner. For all the general chaos at Stamford Bridge, he couldn't cause sufficient havoc to force an equaliser.

Chelsea had done just enough. Benitez, meanwhile, had seemingly said enough. When asked whether he lost his temper on Wednesday, he disregarded it again, saying: "I'm trying to enjoy today after winning."

Enjoyment: a rare feeling at Stamford Bridge of late.

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