Nobody could blame Rafa Benítez for trying to balance Chelsea’s priorities on Saturday, but after losing at Southampton with a weakened XI, the Blues boss has put his team in a terrible position. Chelsea are now in fourth place, only two points above Arsenal, while give back the head start built under Roberto Di Matteo. Even worse, the team now seems set to fight on three fronts, with an interim manager steering a regressing side potentially prioritizing cup competitions over a top four finish.
Look too deep into that statement and it becomes unfair to Benítez, as it wasn’t unreasonable for him to think a half-strength Chelsea could get win at St. Marys. Had he suspected his team could lose 2-1, Benítez surely would have started Eden Hazard. Or David Luiz, Demba Ba, Ramires, or Ashley Cole (wow, this list is long). He wouldn’t have started Marko Marin or Fernando Torres, and Yossi Benayoun – who (amazingly) was on the pitch at fulltime while Ba sat on the bench – wouldn’t have made the trip at all.
Instead, Benítez saw his excessively weak team given up first half goals to Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert, with only John Terry’s 33rd minute conversation getting his team on the board. At fulltime, it was hard to argue Chelsea deserved more than their 2-1 loss to Southampton.
Chelsea, with one of the most expensive playing squads in the world, were outshot and out-possessed by a team that came into the day battling relegation, and while those indicators don’t necessarily tell you how the match unfolded, they strongly suggest a team whose talent should roll through St. Mary’s failed to dictate the teams of the game. The Blues didn’t control play. They lacked urgency. They just weren’t that good.
And that’s becoming a common refrain with Chelsea. Yes, there are frequent glimpses of the team’s talent, hints Rafa Benítez may have some idea of how to steer this barge home. But four months into his time at Stamford Bridge, Benítez has taken a third place team in Champions League that was on course to win the League Cup and crashed out of both competitions while allowing his team to be drawn into a fight to finish top four. This is not the level the club imagined when they bought Eden Hazard.
All of these references to Chelsea’s talent, wages, expectations – they got old months ago. Nothing’s changed. Ever since Benítez came on board, we’ve been able to recycle the same post: huge talent; deep pockets; few results; no apparent plan. Under Benítez, Chelsea have become a bloated, clumsy seal, destined to lose hope and roll off its iceberg, sinking out of significance.
He may hope silverware, be it the FA Cup or Europa League, will create a legacy. Just as he walked away from Inter Milan with faux redemption after winning the Club World Cup, Benítez may dream of lifting a trophy and thumbing a nose as he walks out the door. Nobody remembers that Inter was mid-table when he left, he might think. He may be kidding himself into believing nobody will remember fifth place if Chelsea snare Europa League or an FA Cup.
Putting aside the fact Chelsea have the type of resources to avoid either-or scenarios, finishing top four is much more important than winning the FA Cup. It’s much more important than winning Europa League. Finishing top four may not give Benítez the line on his resume he can spin going forward, but the Champions League money is much more important to the club.
On Saturday, Benítez’s priorities were wrong. His team didn’t play well, and he made poor choices while trying to get a response. As a result, Chelsea are only two points ahead of Arsenal, and they’re worse off today than they’ve been at any other point of the season.
Chelsea in Portugal for Enzo Fernandez medical ahead of record deal
The Argentina star has a goal and six assists in 22 matches across all competitions, but his skills as an elite ball progressor are what most attracts the Blues.
Fernandez ranks in the 99th percentile of midfielders in progressive passes per 90 at 9.47 and in the 95th percentile in shot-creating actions per 90 (FBref.com).
Chelsea’s revolutionized its squad since the club was purchased by Todd Boehly’s consortium last year, with Wesley Fofana, Mykhaylo Mudryk, Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly, Marc Cucurella, and many more.
The January transfer window has again seen big-name imports into the Premier League, and the final hours of the window we saw a flurry of deals take place.
Chelsea spent big, once again, as a British record $130 million deal for Enzo Fernandez nears completion, while Liverpool signed Cody Gakpo and Arsenal added Trossard, Jorginho and Jakub Kiwior to strengthen their title hopes.
As for deadline day itself Jorginho has joined Arsenal from Chelsea in a big move across London, while Manchester United are chasing the singing of Marcel Sabitzer on loan from Bayern Munich after they lost Christian Eriksen to injury.
Chelsea are pushing hard to sign Enzo Fernandez and it looks like it could happen right around the deadline, while Bournemouth, Southampton, Fulham and Tottenham are all busy on deadline day too and pushing deals through late on.
Dango Ouattara (Lorient)
Darren Randolph (West Ham)
Antoine Semenyo (Bristol City)
Matias Vina (Roma) Loan
Illia Zabarnyi (Dynamo Kiev)
Ferdinand Okoh (Dorchester) Loan
James Hill (Hearts) Loan
Will Dennis (Slough) Loan
Noa Boutin (Gosport) Loan
Gavin Kilkenny (Charlton Athletic) Loan
Leandro Trossard (Brighton)
Jakub Kiwior (Spezia Calcio)
Brooke Norton-Cuffy (Coventry) Loan
Miguel Azeez (Wigan) Loan
Arthur Okonkwo (Sturm Graz) Loan
Ovie Ejeheri (SJK Seinajoki) Loan
Harry Clarke (Ipswich Town)
Marquinhos (Norwich) Loan
Omar Rekik (Wigan) Loan
Albert Sambi Lokonga (Crystal Palace) Loan
In Aaron Ramsey (loan recall)
Tyreik Wright (loan recall)
Alex Moreno (Real Betis)
Jhon Duran (Chicago Fire)
Bertrand Traore (loan recall)
Out Cameron Archer (Middlesbrough) Loan
Tyreik Wright (Plymouth Argyle)
Frederic Guilbert (RC Strasbourg)
Indiana Vassilev (St. Louis City SC)
Danny Ings (West Ham)
Jan Bednarek (loan recall)
Morgan Sanson (Strasbourg) Loan
Ludwig Augustinsson (loan recall)
Marvelous Nakamba (Luton Town) Loan
Aaron Ramsey (Middlesbrough) Loan
In Byron Wilson (Coventry)
Conor McManus (Bray Wanderers)
Fin Stevens (loan recall)
Mads Bech (loan recall)
Beaux Booth (Dorking)
Kevin Schade (Freiburg) Loan
Paris Maghoma (loan recall)
Romeo Beckham (Inter Miami) Loan
Nathan Young-Coombes (loan recall)
Vincent Angelini (Watford)
Salomon Rondon (released)
Nathan Broadhead (Ipswich)
Tom Cannon (Preston) Loan
Niels Nkounkou (Saint-Etienne) Loan
Sebastian Quirk (Accrington Stanley)
Tyler Onyango (Forest Green) Loan
Anthony Gordon (Newcastle)
Joe Anderson (Sunderland)
In Anthony Knockaert (loan recall)
Sasa Lukic (Torino)
Idris Odutayo (Maidenhead) Loan extension
Anthony Knockaert (Huddersfield) Loan
Ibane Bowat (Den Bosch) Loan
Connor McAvoy (Partick Thistle) Loan
Josh Onomah (mutual termination)
Nathaniel Chalobah (West Brom)
In Max Wober (RB Salzburg)
Georginio Rutter (Hoffenheim)
Weston McKennie (Juventus) Loan
Diogo Monteiro (Servette)
Out Mateusz Klich (MLS pending)
Alfie McCalmont (Carlisle) Loan
Leo Hjelde (Rotherham) Loan
Max Dean (MK Dons)
Cody Drameh (Luton) Loan
Joe Gelhardt (Sunderland) Loan
Diego Llorente (Roma) Loan
George Hirst (loan recall)
Victor Kristiansen (Copenhagen)
Nathan Opoku (Field Masters Sporting Club)
George Hirst (Ipswich) Loan
Ben Nelson (Doncaster) Loan
Jakub Stolarczyk (Hartlepool) Loan
Ayoze Perez (Real Betis) Loan
Nathan Opoku (OH Leuven) Loan
Cody Gakpo (PSV)
Billy Koumetio (Austria Vienna) Loan recall
Max Woltman (loan recall)
Jakub Ojrzynski (loan recall)
James Balagizi (loan recall)
Fidel O’Rourke (loan recall)
Rhys Williams (loan recall)
Jake Cain (Swindon Town)
Jarell Quansah (Bristol Rovers) Loan
Luke Chambers (Kilmarnock) Loan
In Liam Delap (loan recall)
Maximo Perrone (Velez Sarsfield)
In Jack Butland (Crystal Palace) Loan
Wout Weghorst (Burnley) Loan
Marcel Sabitzer (Bayern Munich) Loan
Martin Dubravka (loan recall)
Shola Shoretire Loan (Bolton Wanderers)
Charlie Savage (Forest Green) Loan
Ondrej Mastny (Portadown) Loan
Di’Shon Bernard (Portsmouth) Loan
Charlie McNeill (Newport) Loan
In Amadou Diallo (free) Garang Kuol (Central Coast Mariners)
Martin Dubravka (loan recall)
Anthony Gordon (Everton)
Harrison Ashby (West Ham)
✍️ We are delighted to announce the signing on Anthony Gordon on a long-term deal!
Arnaut Danjuma (Villarreal) Loan
Jude Soonsup-Bell (Chelsea)
Bryan Gil (Sevilla) Loan
Djed Spence (Stade Rennais) Loan
Matt Doherty (Atletico Madrid)
West Ham United
Luizao (Sao Paulo)
Armstrong Okoflex (loan recall)
Danny Ings (Aston Villa)
Thierry Nevers (Bradford) Loan
Craig Dawson (Wolves)
Pierre Ekwah (Sunderland)
Darren Randolph (AFC Bournemouth)
Will Greenidge (Colchester) Loan
Harrison Ashby (Newcastle)
In Matheus Cunha (Atletico Madrid) Loan
Joe Young (loan recall)
Louie Moulden (loan recall)
Theo Corbeanu (loan recall)
Christian Marques (loan recall)
Lewis Richards (loan recall)
Mario Lemina (Nice)
Pablo Sarabia (Paris Saint-Germain)
Craig Dawson (West Ham)
Dan Bentley (Bristol City)
Ki-Jana Hoever (loan recall)
Joao Gomes (Flamengo)
Out Leo Bonatini (released)
Joe Young (Telford) Loan
Goncalo Guedes (Benfica) Loan
Theo Corbeanu (Arminia Bielefeld) Loan
Leonardo Campana (Inter Miami)
Connor Ronan (Colorado Rapids)
Fabio Silva (PSV) Loan
Matija Sarkic (Stoke) Loan
Ki-Jana Hoever (Stoke) Loan
Jackson Smith (Walsall) Loan
Chem Campbell (Wycombe Wanderers) Loan
From clicking on the links above to read the latest reports and analysis, having Sky Sports News live on Peacock all day long and to our own Pro Soccer Talk live deadline day show which starts at 5:30pm ET on Jan. 31, you won’t miss a thing.
Click on the video below to send in your questions for the PST crew for our deadline day chat where we will round up all of the deals happening late in the window, dish out grades to Premier League teams based on their business and give our analysis on the best signings of the January window.
Sean Longstaff scored twice and Newcastle United navigated a concession to reach its first domestic cup final since 1999 by outlasting Southampton in the League Cup semifinal.
The Magpies entered the second leg up 1-0 on a Joelinton goal and moved their aggregate advantage to 3-0 in the first half before Che Adams scored a pretty goal to bring Saints within two at St. James’ Park.
But it wasn’t all good news as Bruno Guimaraes was sent off after Video Assistant Referee reviewed a hard, studs-first tackle outside the 18 with about 10 minutes to play and will miss Newcastle’s next three matches.
Newcastle seems likely to meet Manchester United in the final, which will be played at London’s Wembley Stadium on Feb. 26, as the Red Devils lead Nottingham Forest 3-0 after one leg and return home to Old Trafford for Wednesday’s semifinal second leg.
Newcastle is off to a final for the first time since the 1998-99 FA Cup, when the Magpies were beaten by the famed, treble-winning Manchester United side.
Newcastle can dream of silverware earlier than expected
Newcastle suffered a precipitous decline under former owner Mike Ashley, and it’s been a decade since the Toon Army’s experienced European football via quarterfinal run in the 2012-13 Europa League.
It may surprise younger fans to note that the Northeast side qualified for the UEFA Champions League on either side of turn of the century, and the city’s been ready to erupt for their boys for some time. The vibes at St.James’ Park on Tuesday were terrific.
The Magpies not having Bruno Guimaraes — assuming the red card isn’t overturned — is a huge miss for the next three games, but they will have Bruno for the final against Manchester United’s mighty and experienced midfield assuming it holds onto its first-leg advantage over Nottingham Forest.
For Saints, they’ll turn their attention to the FA Cup and keep their attention on the relegation fight, which should be very, very tricky as Premier League sides are fortifying on this Deadline Day.
Stars of the Show
Newcastle hosts West Ham at 12:30pm ET Saturday in Premier League play, while Saints are off to Brentford for a 10am ET kickoff on the same day.
Eddie Howe’s side has performed well above expectations this season, mounting a serious top-four challenge one or two years ahead of reasonable expectations. Getting to — and winning — a final in the same season would merely be icing on the cake for Howe, who took over the Premier League’s 19th-place side (5 points from 11 games) from Steve Bruce in November 2021.
Saints reached the League Cup final in 2017, but were somewhat controversially beaten by Manchester United at Wembley Stadium. Southampton have won more cup ties (6 of 7) than PL fixtures (4 of 20), which goes a long way toward explaining why Nathan Jones’ side sits rock-bottom of the PL table with just 15 points.
Newcastle team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Jonjo Shelvey (calf), Matt Targett (foot), Emil Krafth (knee)