By Liam Twomey at Stamford Bridge
The last time Swansea beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – in November 1925 – it was in an Old Second Division which pitted both sides against the likes of South Shields, Clapton Orient (now Leyton Orient) and The Wednesday (now Sheffield Wednesday).
In April 1981, when the Welsh giants last emerged victorious at all, Bucks Fizz were top of the UK singles’ chart with Eurovision smash ‘Making Your Mind Up’.
But the quirks of history paled into insignificance on Wednesday evening, as a shock home defeat saw months of pent up anger, frustration and disillusionment among Chelsea fans finally spill over into something resembling the beginnings of open mutiny.
The mood was tense from the moment the teams were announced. Bruce Buck, club chairman and the public voice of Roman Abramovich, was booed when he ventured onto the pitch.
Demba Ba, dropped in favour of Fernando Torres despite scoring two debut goals against Southampton on Saturday, was given a pointedly rapturous reception from all four corners of Stamford Bridge, while the loudest pre-match cheer of all was reserved for Frank Lampard, also benched.
Even as the Blues made a confident start to the match, with reunited trio Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar buzzing dangerously around the final third, every move was set to the tune of ‘Super Frankie Lampard’ or ‘Sign him up’. As the success of Swansea’s defensive gameplan became more evident, the exasperated crowd focused ever more intently on their absent stars.
In midfield, every error made by the unusually poor Ramires was interpreted as another reason to bay for Lampard’s introduction. With 71 minutes gone and the home side already trailing, Rafa Benitez finally granted the Blue masses their wish.
But he gave Torres another 10 minutes to become the full focus of their ire, before finally removing him to a very audible – if not quite all-encompassing – chorus of boos.
The only surprise about the Spaniard’s fall from favour is that it has taken this long to complete. With Torres, Chelsea fans have shown exceptional patience and understanding, mainly borne out of a desperate desire to see the man become something more than the most expensive flop in the history of English football.
For a while, they believed the excuses – that Didier Drogba was too intimidating, that their team played too slowly, or that it was simply a crisis of confidence. But this season Torres has run out of credit, and sympathy has turned to anger with the realisation that the brutal sacking of Roberto Di Matteo and the loathsome imposition of Benitez will yield no more than the same old listless performances.
Torres has been dismissed in many quarters as having declined into mediocrity in every department, but this is not the case. For there is no striker in England, and quite possibly in Europe, who is so adept at disappearing completely from a match.
In 81 minutes he touched the ball just 19 times, and mustered only one shot – a half-hearted curler on the half-turn from outside the area which drew appreciation from only the most one-eyed Chelsea fans. His team were effectively playing with 10 men.
This unique ability to be so consistently inconsequential is almost impressive in a side bursting with pace and creativity. But hiding is not a quality which is valued at any level of football, let alone at a club which won the Champions League only seven months ago.
Michu was almost as anonymous for Swansea. But he worked selflessly for his team, hassled the Chelsea defence and, when his chance came, he took it with the dead-eyed cool of a seasoned gunslinger. He scores when he wants. Torres rarely shows any such desire.
As long as the hapless Spaniard was the only striker at Stamford Bridge, supporters had no choice but to back him. But now the club have actually signed someone who scores goals, they see no reason to persist with this folly. Only when Ba came on did Chelsea look like they had teeth.
Benitez refused to criticise his ‘star striker’ after the game. In fact, he was careful not to mention his name once, or that of Ba. “I’m happy with the way the team was working,” he told reporters. “I don’t think we can talk about one player.”
His optimism will provoke further anger among Chelsea fans, but not surprise. Benitez knows he cannot speak ill of Torres without torpedoing the sole reason he was brought to Stamford Bridge. As long as Abramovich regards his ‘gift’ as someone worth persisting with, Ba will not start key games, despite what fans, journalists or even statistics say.
The boos at the final whistle were about more than one result. Whether it be the enforced departure of Drogba, the hiring of Benitez, the shabby treatment of Lampard or the corrupt pre-eminence of Torres, Chelsea supporters see all around them evidence of a club which not only ignores them, but is discarding everything they hold dear.
Benitez and Torres are the current focus of their fury, and it is hard to see how either man can survive at Stamford Bridge for much longer. But if Abramovich and his advisors do not take care, Wednesday night showed they too may soon feel the full force of discontent.
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