Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Rafa Benitez faces failure on another front after Ryan Bertrand lapse in Europa League

Steaua Bucharest 1 Chelsea 0

Chelsea's Fernando Torres, reacts after missing an opportunity to score against Steaua Bucharest during their Europa League round of 16 first leg soccer match at the National Arena stadium in Bucharest, Romania, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Chelsea's Fernando Torres, reacts after missing an opportunity to score against Steaua Bucharest during their Europa League round of 16 first leg soccer match at the National Arena stadium in Bucharest, Romania, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - MARCH 07:  FC Steaua fans show their support during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 match between FC Steaua Bucuresti and Chelsea at the National Arena on March 7, 2013 in Bucharest, Romania.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - MARCH 07: FC Steaua fans show their support during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 match between FC Steaua Bucuresti and Chelsea at the National Arena on March 7, 2013 in Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - MARCH 07:  Raul Rusescu of FC Steaua scores a penalty past Petr Cech of Chelsea as Fernando Torres of Chelsea looks away during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 match between FC Steaua Bucuresti and Chelsea at the National Arena on March 7, 2013 in Bucharest, Romania.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - MARCH 07: Raul Rusescu of FC Steaua scores a penalty past Petr Cech of Chelsea as Fernando Torres of Chelsea looks away during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 match between FC Steaua Bucuresti and Chelsea at the National Arena on March 7, 2013 in Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

No matter what Rafael Benitez tries as Chelsea’s interim first-team manager, it always seem to backfire. Just a couple of days after the club’s chief executive, Ron Gourlay, warned him that finishing in the Premier League top four was a must, Benitez is on the verge of failing in another cup competition.

Raul Rosescu’s penalty was enough to give Steaua the advantage in the first leg of this last 16 Europa League tie last night and, unfortunately for Benitez, he had a hand in its outcome.

He actually picked a stronger team than many expected, especially with an FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford just three days away. However it was typical that one of the squad players he chose to play, Ryan Bertrand, ended up gifting Steaua the opening goal.

The home side had barely posed any threat when Iasmin Latovlevici crossed deep and Rusescu fell under the challenge of Bertrand, who was playing instead of Ashley Cole.

It appeared a harsh decision by referee Sergei Karasev Bertrand, but then the young English left-back had looked uncomfortable throughout playing next to David Luiz rather than John Terry. The latter started but was, unusually, fielded to the right of Luiz.

Rusescu, Steaua’s leading scorer this season, converted the spot-kick emphatically to spark delirious celebrations and uncomfortably loud dance music on the PA system. Afterwards, Benitez complained  that the decision  had been unjust and tried to remain upbeat about Chelsea’s chances of progressing. He said: “The mood in the dressing room is as you would expect after a defeat. We are disappointed, but we still have the belief we can do it at home.”

A clearly rattled Benitez can still point to one Spaniard having a more miserable time as Fernando Torres’ woes continued. He had been informed that his deflected effort at Middlesbrough last week had been taken away by the dubious goals panel and awarded to Ramires instead. So his record reverted to a miserable one goal in 17. The 28-year-old was soon back in the spotlight for the wrong reasons as just after  he tripped to send the ball out of play, a green laser pen was aimed at him from the stands.

It was fitting that Chelsea were playing in a city like Bucharest, a confused mix of the old and the new, just like Benitez’s squad. Romania’s capital is renowned for potholes galore, making any travel rather bumpy. One could say the same applies to Chelsea’s season and the club’s fans are so disenchanted they decided to give this one a miss. Around 300 to 400 fans looked all the more lost in the impressive National Arena, opened in 2011 and boasting a capacity of more than 55,000.

Still few should blame them, especially when seeing the team play as ineffectively as this, albeit against a side full of confidence owing to their 12-point lead in Romania’s top flight.

Yossi Benayoun should have equalised when put through by Eden Hazard, but shot tamely for Ciprian Tatarusanu to tip it wide. Tatarusanu also blocked a half-volley from Torres and a late effort from Marko Marin, but Chelsea were poor as an attacking force.

They have a lot of improving to do at Stamford Bridge if they are to avoid the undistinguished record of being knocked out prematurely of a second European competition this term.

Still one English team will be happy with what they saw, as Manchester United lie in wait to make amends for their own European heartbreak.

“It’s another competition and atmosphere,” Benitez said. “Sunday is another challenge for us.” It is a challenge that Chelsea look very unlikely to overcome.

Booked: Steaua Bucharest Mihai Pintilii. Chelsea Bertrand, Mikel.

Man of the match Rusescu.

Match rating 5/10. 

Possession: Steaua Bucharest 55%. Chelsea 45%.

Attempts on target: Steaua Bucharest 2. Chelsea 3. Referee S Karasev (Moscow). 

Attendance 45,000.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Nightlife galleries

More

Latest Sport News

Stats Centre