Will Chelsea's Victory over Manchester United Soothe Feelings to Rafa Benitez?
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A series of unfortunate and unusual events occurred at Old Trafford on Sunday, but for once, it won't be Chelsea who will be leaving Manchester feeling disillusioned.
The misfortune came when Juan Mata's crucial 87th-minute winner took a small yet decisive deflection off Phil Jones to stun the lethargic Red Devils and send them crashing to a rare home defeat.
Now for the unusual part.
Howard Webb, infamously viewed as a referee who tends to be biased towards Ferguson's side, shocked the Old Trafford faithful by showing Rafael a straight red card for a petulant kick on David Luiz. This was almost unthinkable when you consider Manchester United had not received one in the previous 34 matches.
And then, when the final whistle was blown, the Chelsea fans appeared to clap for Rafael Benitez as he walked across the pitch.
It was a strange occurrence; after all, these were the same fans who had barracked Benitez every single home game for merely taking a lucrative job offer at a well-established and successful club.
The Spaniard opted not to acknowledge the gesture, but in his mind, he may have been smiling, feeling that the tide is turning in his favor.
Perhaps what was even more surprising was the fact that Manchester United had indeed failed to score at the "Theatre of Dreams" for the first time in 67 games, a run that had stretched all the way back to September 2009.
Defeat was no more than the Red Devils deserved, with the champions appearing to be on their summer holidays already as they succumbed to a surprise defeat.
It may have been a question of a lack of motivation, but Sir Alex Ferguson did field a side seemingly capable of containing the Europa League finalists.
Their opponents, Chelsea, looked hungry and had the better chances throughout the game. And when the little magician Mata slotted home his effort, you could see just how important that goal was to the Blues.
Chelsea's away form has been impressive all season, in fairness, but it was clear that with this vital victory, any ill feeling towards their interim manager Benitez was much forgotten as they claimed a priceless win.
In recent weeks, there has definitely been a change of opinion from the Blues' supporters. Recent speculation has seen Benitez inevitably linked with a move elsewhere as his contract nears expiration, but on the other hand, there have been whispers mentioning the possibility of prolonging his stay at the club.
Leading Chelsea to the Europa League final has been a tough responsibility, with the Blues' fixture list piling up. And after playing their 65th game against Manchester United on Sunday, they still have to play Tottenham, Aston Villa, Everton and Benfica.
Benitez should probably receive more credit than he has been given, even despite receiving the Premier League Manager of the Month award for April. He has had to manage a small squad time and time again with the games coming thick and fast. Sure, squad rotation is a preference for him, but in this scenario, the 52-year-old has had no option.
The fans appreciate that aspect of his six-month tenure at Stamford Bridge: that he has been unable to mark his stamp on the club and has simply had to work with the resources he has available at Chelsea.
Nevertheless, should the club achieve their objectives, it would mark a successful end to a season that could've ended in disaster for the Blues. Certainly, there is still work to do, and perhaps if an unlikely collapse were to happen now, the supporters would have every right to criticize Benitez.
Whatever happens, it will not make much of an impact on the board's decision, even if Chelsea do finish in the top four and win the Europa League final in Amsterdam.
The fact remains that Jose Mourinho is the popular choice—for both the fans and the players—to return for a second spell. With various media sources claiming a deal is close to completion, the former Liverpool manager is poised to become nothing more than a distant memory in Chelsea's history book.
And while success on his CV is essential for deciding his next move, Benitez will be hoping that the Chelsea fans choose not to look back in anger, but in nostalgia.
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