Chelsea Champions League D-Day: Rafael Benitez Needs Win over Nordsjaelland
interim: [adjective] Belonging to, serving during, or taking place during an intermediate interval of time; temporary.
The title Interim Manager has never sat particularly well in England, but Chelsea's Rafael Benitez must have thought that the "temporary" part would at least last from late November to the middle of the following May.
With one defeat and two scoreless draws behind him since arriving at a less-than-welcoming Stamford Bridge, however, lingering prospects of extending that interim period are fast diminishing for the manager who claims two La Liga titles, a UEFA Cup, an FA Cup and a Champions League victory on his C.V.
It is indicative of the state of affairs at the London club that rumours are even circulating about Benitez's immediate future.
The fans do not want him—have never wanted him, in fact. That much has been made abundantly clear by those on the terraces and on the Internet, and it will not stop now.
Rather more lacking has been the vocalisation of exactly who they'd prefer to see him immediately replaced by; Pep Guardiola is patently unavailable at present and Roberto Di Matteo is not going to be re-hired.
As former player and assistant Ray Wilkins said:
[Roman Abramovich] is running out of options. If Guardiola was to come in and got sacked, where do you go?
Benitez's best hope then is to turn the fans if not onto his side then certainly onto the team's. The way to do that of course is both inherently simple and difficult. Win matches.
Most pressing right now is Chelsea's next fixture, which happens to be the small matter of a Champions League decider.
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Rather like when Roberto Di Matteo took over last season, Chelsea is facing an exit from the competition unless the new man can turn things around in his very first fixture. Unlike Di Matteo though, Benitez cannot solely rely on his own team to progress.
A win for Chelsea over Danish side Nordsjaelland will see the team end the group stage on ten points.
The other fixture sees Juventus travel to Shakhtar, and both sides know that a draw will see the two of them progress at the expense of Chelsea due to the Italian side's better head-to-head record over the Blues.
Rafa could win 10-0 in his first Champions League game and still exit the competition. Even then it would be he who bears the brunt of the supporters' ill-judged wrath.
Never mind the five matches already gone when Chelsea had its chance to attain enough points, poor defeats in the Ukraine and Italy and a barely-deserved three points at home to Shakhtar. Benitez will take the blame and the supporters will use their disappointment at giving up so feebly a competition they finally won last season as a platform to showcase their ire once more for their latest boss.
It could be argued, of course, that all Chelsea managers are pretty temporary these days; even when Di Matteo was handed the job on a permanent basis in the summer it was very much looking like a case of "we'll give it to you because the people we really want aren't available."
Chelsea fans might disagree, they might even be right, but looking in from outside there is a lack of continuity or support for the management which has continued ever since Jose Mourinho left Stamford Bridge for the last time.
And what if Benitez wins through?
What will be the outcome for Chelsea in the Champions League this week?
Well, Di Matteo will probably have "done the hard work." After all, it's "only" Nordsjaelland and Chelsea should be beating them regardless of the group situation.
After that it's a matter of hoping Shakhtar wins on home soil and sends Juventus home empty-handed.
Should Benitez guide his team through Group E, there is a good opportunity for the team to quickly rack up four wins on the bounce.
That kind of run might not still the chants from the terraces indefinitely, but they would certainly provide the manager with a case for continuation over the new year period and into the January transfer window, when he might be able to bring in one or two new faces more to his liking.
Continue the run of non-victories, though, and Benitez might find himself walking the same path as Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant, Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti, Villas-Boas and now Di Matteo—and in record time.
It is a temporary job, after all.
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