Jose Mourinho has wished Rafael Benitez “good luck” following his appointment as Chelsea manager, and the Spaniard is going to need it because he has just two days to prepare the team to face Premier League champions Manchester City.
First impressions could be vital.
Winning the players over is key, because good performances from the players is the only way Benitez will be able to get the fans on his side, who have largely been hostile to his appointment.
But it will not be easy.
Roberto Di Matteo was clearly a popular figure in the dressing room, as this message from Juan Mata on Mata's Facebook page indicates.
“It's been a difficult day. Roberto Di Matteo is no longer our manager. I would like to thank him for all this time with us and wish him the best of luck for the future.”
Life goes on, though, and Benitez has two days to find a quick solution to Chelsea’s defensive frailties and their recent lack of prowess in front of goal.
Solving the Fernando Torres conundrum is a top priority, as that is possibly why Benitez was chosen to replace Di Matteo, given the success the pair had together at Liverpool.
Torres scored 72 goals in 116 games while Benitez was in charge in the north-west.
The Chelsea No. 9 has not been able to replicate that form at Stamford Bridge.
It has become clear in recent weeks that the Blues cannot always depend upon their attacking midfielders for match-winning goals, so whoever plays in front of Edin Hazard, Mata and Oscar—if Benitez sticks with the 4-2-3-1 formation—will have to step up to the plate.
It would appear that Roman Abramovich is not yet willing to give up on his £50 million investment, so Torres will probably be the front man Benitez opts for. Benitez told Sport360:
“I think you can see in his face that he [Torres] is almost trying too hard... Sometimes it is a question of time, but he is a good player, is keen to learn and is a good professional.”
But Torres has run out of time, and with Radamel Falcao waiting in the wings, the arrival of Benitez in West London is surely the Spanish striker’s last chance to live up to his potential—and his price tag.
Rafa prefers a direct style of football, as he is said to favour scoring with as few passes as possible, which may benefit a single striker playing in front of three creative players.
Holding midfielders John Obi Mikel and Ramires might also be encouraged to play more long balls over the top in an attempt to give Torres something to run on to.
This could mark an end to some of the beautiful and expansive passing football that Mata and co. were brought in to produce, but Chelsea fans will accept that if the results are positive.
His stint in Milan aside, Benitez teams are usually well organised, and it is organisation in defence that Chelsea need in order to keep clean sheets and give the attacking players the platform they need to win games.
If Benitez can get the Torres goal machine quickly working again, there is a chance Chelsea will compete with the Manchester clubs for the Premier League title this season, and will possibly secure the Spaniard a longer-term contract.
If not, he can expect to be shown the door by the club’s billionaire owner, as so many first-team coaches have been before him.