Frank Lampard, John Terry, the supporters – there has been much for the interim manager to contend with
It was Rafael Benítez who laid out the pieces of the puzzle and came up with the solution. David Luiz loves to get on the ball, maraud forward and make things happen. At centre-half, there is no safety net in the event of a slip. So why not try him in midfield? Obvious but effective. The Brazilian has grown to the point where John Terry says that he sees him as a future Chelsea captain. Even when switched back to centre-half, David Luiz has looked more assured.
Benítez inherited the sort of conundrum that had scrambled many of his predecessors. Frank Lampard would not, seemingly, be offered a new contract and there would be regular questions about the disruptive consequences of the potential phasing out of a legend. Benítez never wavered from the stance that it was a club matter, rather than one for him personally, and he merely concentrated on drawing the best from the midfielder. Lampard is now Chelsea's record goalscorer, with his last 14 coming under Benítez. In the process, he has earned his new deal.
The club's board knew that Benítez's appointment would be unpopular and they were braced for the initial hostility. They thought that it would abate but it did not. They would be shocked at the sustained levels of it. "Fuck off Benítez, you're not wanted 'ere," became the soundtrack to Chelsea matches. But Benítez kept his head down and his dignity. Even his supposed tirade against the fans at Middlesbrough was not really a tirade, more a rational appeal for calm. The chants have belatedly stopped. That Benítez has succeeded in the face of such acrimony has earned him respect.
The dramatic Europa League triumph over Benfica was Chelsea's 47th game under Benítez in 171 days. The schedule has been almost ludicrously unforgiving and it has been exacerbated by imbalances to the club's squad. Benítez has rotated assiduously, balancing the need for fresh legs with that for continuity, and he has managed to make the changes feel like a virtue rather than a vice. The policy has been risky and it went wrong in the defeat at Southampton, for example, but it has been vindicated in the long run.
Benítez's greatest man-management trick has been his subtle relegation of Terry, the captain, leader and legend, to the squad's fourth-choice centre-half. There was a time when this would have been unthinkable and the player's reaction might not have borne consideration. But Terry, whose lack of pace is a problem to how Benítez likes to play, has been accepting and supportive in public. Benítez initially said that the defender's knee injury was the issue and he was then able to use the need for rotation to diffuse the awkwardness.