Suarez Brace Leaves Benitez Facing Difficult Questions

Published: 22nd November 2015 09:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd November 2015 09:36 AM   |  A+A-

Just minutes before Diego Costa scored the game's winning goal, Jose Mourinho had become so desperate to find a way in which to coax the striker into action that he had demanded the Brazilian's attention from the touchline and then mimed tapping an imaginary ball into an imaginary goal.

Moments earlier, Costa had been missing in action when a cross from Eden Hazard had flashed across the face of an unguarded Norwich goal to the gasps and grumbles of the home crowd. There was a significant unoccupied area of the pitch where the Chelsea centre-forward was supposed to be and it was starting to get embarrassing.

When finally Costa's goal did come he deliberated long enough to make you think he might just miss. Afterwards Mourinho described how he wondered during the last few minutes of the game, when Norwich threw everything they had at it, if perhaps another catastrophe was about to befall him, that "maybe we score in our own goal in the last minute."

That bleak perspective is borne of the bitter experience of the last eight weeks during which Chelsea have won just twice in the league since beating Arsenal on 19 September, and there were times when you thought that this game might go the same way that so many others have for Mourinho.

His team dominated the first half and yet, with Costa picking the wrong run to make, or not even running at all, or missing chances, there was always a chance that they could throw it away.

Alex Neil was convinced his Norwich team should have had a penalty on 33 minutes when Willian barged into Robbie Brady. "I generally don't say anything about referees because they have a hard enough job," he said, "but it is getting extremely frustrating." For the two good chances that Costa missed in the first half, there was also a superb John Terry block that denied Sebastien Bassong - a classic, body-on-the-line lunge in front of the ball when all seemed lost. The first half could have been much worse for Chelsea who, in spite of fine performances from Hazard, Nemanja Matic and Kennedy, at left back, might have conceded.

Mourinho dedicated the game to the club's player liaison officer Gary Staker, whose father died this week and has worked for Chelsea since the days when he was the only Italian speaker they could rustle up to translate for Claudio Ranieri. Mourinho said fourth place was still a possibility, suggesting that an unnamed team who have exceeded expectations - surely, Leicester City - would "have a little bit of a collapse" at some point.

"If you ask me [if Chelsea can win] the title I would say 'impossible mission'. Maybe Tom Cruise can do it. It's complicated because you have to recover points from four candidates. But to recover positions and points to teams that normally are in the middle of the table [is possible]. To grab one of those that go up and will also have a little bit of a collapse for sure, because everybody does."

The win means that at least Mourinho has some breathing space although the pressure will be back on again in 24 hours' time as Chelsea travel to Israel for their Champions League game against Maccabi Tel Aviv, and then face Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. The Spurs game looms large for Mourinho because White Hart Lane is one place Chelsea fans hate to lose.

For now, though, he can give grudging thanks that Costa kept his composure on 64 minutes when he cut inside Ryan Bennett and stroked the ball beyond the reach of John Ruddy.

It brings to an end a three-game run of defeats in the league that has shredded Mourinho's season and left him very much at the mercy of Roman Abramovich, who was at Stamford Bridge.

Costa had missed twice in the first half, both from crosses from Pedro, and the second very well saved by Ruddy. Mourinho said Costa had a tendency to be late recovering his position and be caught offside, and, indeed, Chelsea's goal came from a quick free-kick from Cesc Fabregas that opened the space behind Norwich's defence.

"You don't score goals, you get heavier," Mourinho said of Costa's state of mind. "Every game that you don't score goals, you get five kilograms more.

"You get heavy and the pressure is there. Everything is connected. When you are full of confidence it's not just about goals, it's also about fluency. You are fluent in your decisions, you choose your movements well, you choose well the number of touches you have on the ball, when to hold, when to keep possession, when to touch, first touch.

Neil accepted "that little lapse in concentration ultimately cost us the match". He had plenty to say to the fourth official Roger East with Mourinho looking on disconsolately but clearly feeling he was unable to participate given recent events. After Ruddy saved well from Matic, Norwich pushed but Chelsea deserved this win.

Revolution was in the air. Whistles of cruel derision cut through the night as Rafael Benitez's desperate attempts to win over Real Madrid's sceptical supporters collapsed spectacularly here in the face of an irresistible Barcelona onslaught, which took its place in the canon of El Clasico masterclasses. If Benitez thought he was under pressure before, it was as nothing to the backlash he prepared to absorb for this stunning humbling. A sumptuous display by Luis Suarez, with two goals in Lionel Messi's first match since September, threatened to hasten the Spaniard out of the Bernabeu exit doors faster than Cristiano Ronaldo - a player who has hardly looked unhappier - could carry him.

While a wider mood of unease had pervaded the build-up to this Clasico, with snipers trained on the surrounding streets a mere eight days after the atrocities in Paris, the discomfort belonged solely to Benitez and his ramshackle players by the end.

Seldom have Toni Kroos or Luka Modric endured a more chastening experiences in the all-white jersey. Seldom has Cristiano Ronaldo slipped so far into the realm of anonymity. And seldom have Barcelona fashioned such wondrous all-round play without Messi, who returned late enough in the second half for the Catalan party to be already starting.

At this rate, Benitez's reign at Real will be shorter even than those of ephemeral predecessors Juande Ramos or Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, neither of whom lasted beyond six months here. Truly, Real were as awful as Barcelona were peerless.

There was no Lionel Messi, but Sergi Roberto proved a more than capable understudy for the evening. The 23 year-old, making only his 15th start for Barcelona, sliced through Real's dilatory defence and timed his pass exquisitely for Luis Suarez, who displayed all his quicksilver instincts with a lethal finish into the bottom corner.

The Bernabeu fell silent at the spectacle of Barcelona's mesmeric keep-ball, encapsulated by the magically elusive Sergio Busquets, described by coach Luis Enrique as the "most intelligent footballer I have ever coached". Real responded fractiously, with Gareth Bale fortunate not to receive a yellow card for stamping on the ankles of Jordi Alba and Cristiano Ronaldo escaping even harsher punishment for an apparent elbow into the head of Dani Alves.

Real looked half-paced and lethargic, mere pawns in the face of the slippery sorcery of Barcelona. But for a dart or two by Ronaldo, they received precisely what they deserved when Andres Iniesta channelled all his Clasico experience into the deftest throughball down the left to Neymar, who was onside by a millimetre as he angled his shot perfectly beyond the paws of Keylor Navas. Not for the first time, culpability rested with Modric and Kroos, oddly detached from the rest of the team as Benitez's tactics backfired.

It is the starkest testament to Barcelona's brilliance in lieu of Messi, watching inscrutably from the bench, that their past 19 goals in La Liga have all been scored by Neymar or Suarez. Theirs is the difference that Gareth Bale was bought to provide for Real, but he proved painfully ineffectual by comparison. There was a certain pathos in the sight of the Welshman, trying to show to his barrackers at the Bernabeu that he was willing to fight, chasing every lost cause and gesticulating madly at his team-mates to attack - even though they better understood Barca's capacity for catching them on the counter.

The one worry for Barcelona was the exit of Javier Mascherano, seemingly due to a recurrence of his groin injury, but they continued pouring forward at will.

Madrid did at least have the decency to muster a fleeting riposte, when James Rodriguez showed shades of his World Cup pyrotechnics in leathering a strike that Claudio Bravo did brilliantly to tip wide. A revival was to be just an illusion, though. Iniesta was allowed to saunter past the inert duo of Modric and Kroos, playing the ball into the feet of Suarez. Duly, the Uruguayan executed a cute back-heel of which Johan Cruyff would have been proud, teeing up Iniesta to fire an Exocet of a shot into the back of the net.

Benitez retreated back into his dugout, possibly for purposes of self-preservation. His battleplan had not held up under this kind of remorselessly probing scrutiny, and he was still prone to decisions of the greatest peculiarity. Why bring on Isco for James, the man who had contrived Real's one meaningful shot of the night, and not replace the abject Bale instead? As ever, it is a question to which only Benitez, beginning to bristle at the hostility of football's most restive fan base, has the answer.

Only his night was to become bleaker still, when the irrepressible Suarez applied a devastating coup de grace. Naturally, it was Messi, coming on with half an hour left for the first time in two months, providing the lay-off for Suarez - starting to terrify Navas by his mere presence - to lift the ball crisply beyond the goalkeeper. A palpable despair, or perhaps mere resignation, engulfed this stadium. By the time substitute Isco was sent off for a wild hack on Neymar's left knee, the all-white posters fluttered by Real's supporters doubled instead as flags of surrender.


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