Something doesn't seem quite right at Chelsea.
Jon Obi Mikel had some interesting comments to make last week after Chelsea's win against Monterrey.
He told the Guardian: "It was a bit of a shock to see David [Luiz] lining up there,' [in midfield] I said to him as we got on to the pitch: Where shall I play?"
"He said he'd play the holding role and that I should go forward. I said OK but, when the game started, I looked up and he was already up their end of the pitch."
"David [Luiz] is a great player, but I don't know if this is going to be a long-term thing.
"I think he needs to play at the back. It was a good performance from him - he kept the ball well and played it well - but when it's not your normal position you sometimes lose something."
His comments are pretty indicative of the uncertainty at Chelsea at the moment.
Jon Obi Mikel appears clearly not to be a fan of Benitez, previously being dropped for Oriol Romeu. His comments prompt the following questions:
- Why is a Chelsea player coming out and openly criticising the tactics?
Could you imagine Lampard doing this, or even Mikel doing it under Di Matteo? Or God forbid under Mourinho? Not a chance. Benitez clearly has not got the dressing room entirely onside.
- Why did Mikel and Luiz only ask each other on the pitch where they would be playing?
Benitez is hailed as a 'master tactician' by many Liverpool fans, but Chelsea supporters are yet to see this. Rafa should have rehearsed this experiment in training so that Mikel would know what to expect when Luiz came on.
- Was Luiz' too ill-disciplined to play as a holding midfielder?
Luiz says he wanted to play as a holding midfield player, yet the Brazilian was 'bombing up in attack' according to Mikel. Luiz is a flair player, and the role requires high concentration and discipline, attributes it is unclear that Luiz has. Was he ignoring Benitez' instructions in joining the attack?
- Is Mikel simply worried about his own berth?
Perhaps Mikel was too worried about losing his own place, having previously been dropped by Benitez. He fears his days are numbered and knows if Luiz steps into midfield he will compete for his position alongside Ramires. His comments, trying to usher Luiz into a return to centre-back, simply display his own insecurity.
Rafa seems to have no end of challenges at Chelsea, and the game against Monterrey was perhaps a good one to experiment, but he needs to keep the players onside. Mikel appears to be questioning his manager's decisions, and this is a dangerous game for player and manager. Benitez' position is precarious, but the manager may simply look to sell the Nigerian in January.
If he doesn't, and Mikel's discontent is echoed around the dressing room, the interim in front of Rafa Benitez's job title could become former sooner than we expect.
image: © Ben Sutherland