Rafael Benitez Still to Win Over Chelsea Supporters Despite Villa Demolition
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Thirteen goals in two games, a Capital One Cup semifinal spot claimed and the regaining of a foothold in the Premier League title race. Not a bad return for Rafael Benitez in his interim role as Chelsea manager.
Or is it?
The former Liverpool boss was already a seriously unpopular choice with the fans to replace Stamford Bridge legend Roberto Di Matteo because of the comments he made about the London club while in charge of
Benitez was appointed until the end of season after club owner Roman Abramovich axed Di Matteo in November on the back of a poor Champions League campaign and a run of two wins from eight games.
The Italian, however, had given Chelsea supporters a night to remember when they beat Bayern Munich in May to become European champions and also won the FA Cup.
A subsequent run of two points from his first three games in charge, including an abysmal 3-1 defeat at West Ham, saw a torrent of vitriol rained down on Benitez.
A 6-1 Champions League win over FC Nordsjaelland was not enough to secure qualification to the last 16, but coupled with the subsequent win at Sunderland, the pressure on Benitez abated a little.
No manager would relish a trip to Japan in midseason as Chelsea made for the FIFA Club World Cup, but for Benitez the lengthy trek took the sting out of the situation.
The Capital One Cup tie at Leeds had "banana skin" emblazoned across it from the moment the teams were paired together. But Chelsea emerged from the game with a 5-1 victory despite going a goal down in the first half.
Benitez and any other football manager would tell you the key to winning over the fans is to win matches.
Fernando Torres, the punchline in so many jokes since his £50 million switch from Liverpool in January 2011, is responding to his new Chelsea boss.
His third-minute header to open the scoring against Villa was simply magnificent, and the Spain striker has now scored seven times in six games since his ex-Liverpool boss joined the West London club.
It may be heresy to say it, but John Terry may struggle to regain his place in the team after a knee injury if the Chelsea defence continues to perform as it is.
In September 2007 Jose Mourinho left the club by mutual consent as his fractious relationship with Abramovich reached its inevitable conclusion.
Stepping into Mourinho’s shoes at Chelsea was a no-win situation for any manager because of the grief-stricken supporters, but the Israeli took up the challenge, and the Blues fans cheered the team to some success instead of wallowing in the loss of the Portuguese.
The wounds still run deep for Chelsea fans, and it will be some time before Benitez is fully accepted—if it ever happens—but wins such as Sunday’s comprehensive demolition of Villa can only help. Fact.
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