Castigated for a damaging Premier League defeat to Southampton less than 48 hours before knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup – welcome to the crazy world of Chelsea under Rafael Benitez.
Of course, the criticism for the loss at St Mary’s was far more vociferous than any credit coming his way for the victory that set up Chelsea with a Wembley date with Manchester City, but that is par for the course where Benitez and the Blues are concerned.
Even this week, former player and assistant manager Ray Wilkins put the boot into poor old Rafa, blaming him for Ashley Cole pulling up with a hamstring injury in the victory over United.
It was ludicrous stuff from someone who should really know better, especially when Chelsea are two games into a spell of seven fixtures in 19 days, but such is the way it is for Benitez at Stamford Bridge: his successes barely noted, his failures condemned from every angle.
In such an environment, it is no wonder that the Spaniard was trying to be bullish post-FA Cup win by noting that despite all the controversy, the west Londoners could yet end the season with Champions League qualification and two trophies.
I personally can’t see all three things happening, mind you. Chelsea’s schedule is ridiculous and eventually something will give.
With a top-four finish the priority and the Blues just two wins away from retaining the FA Cup, my feeling is that it will be the Europa League that will first pay the price.
Benitez does want a trophy for his CV and for all he would probably prefer it to be the Europa League – in the eyes of perspective European employers, it would look better than the FA Cup – the truth is that practically, he is not able to fight on three fronts.
So when Rubin Kazan go to Stamford Bridge on Thursday for the quarter-final first leg, his team selection will be fascinating.
With it being Chelsea’s third game in five days, I don’t think the 1/2 is worth taking at this point, especially when you are not sure of how Benitez will rotate his team.
The draw is 3/1, with Rubin at a bit of a big-looking 11/2, but I think there is a more reliable bet to be found – the 19/10 that the game is 0-0 at half-time, which would return £58 for any new customers successfully backing it with their free £20 bet.
Third in the Russian Premier League, Kazan have done very well to get so far in the competition. Emerging from a group that included Inter Milan, Rubin have seen off holders Atletico Madrid and, in the last round, Levante, and make no mistake – they will make life difficult for Chelsea on Thursday.
Kurban Berdyev’s side have been watertight in the Europa League this year, keeping clean sheets in seven of their ten ties in the competition so far, and at the moment they seem impenetrable: Rubin have managed six shut-outs in their last seven fixtures.
So they can make it hard for a Chelsea side that does their best work after the break. Demba Ba’s strike against United now means that 19 of Chelsea’s last 24 goals have come after the break and at Stamford Bridge, they don’t let in many first-half strikes.
In the 15 games in west London under Benitez, Chelsea have conceded ten goals, but only four have come in the opening period, meaning they have kept 11 first-half clean sheets.
The amount of changes Benitez makes will naturally disrupt the rhythm of the hosts, and, much like on Monday – when I correctly tipped more goals in the second half than the first half of the FA Cup clash with United – it could well take a while for Chelsea to get going.
And with Rubin happy to sit back and defend – and more than capable of doing so – it looks to me like it could be another uneventful first half for Chelsea. Get on the 19/10 there are no goals.