Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Steven Beacom: Rafael Benitez given taste of what lies ahead at Chelsea

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 25: Fans protest over the signing of new manager Rafael Benitez during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on November 25, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 25: New Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez shouts to his players from the team dug out during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on November 25, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
A Chelsea fan with a banner in support of ex-Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, in the stands during the Barclays Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, London

As dull as dishwater, wasn’t it? Chelsea’s match with Manchester City was given the big build-up but, let’s be frank, watching the ink dry on one of the many hand-made signs displayed at Stamford Bridge yesterday would have been more exciting.

Those signs basically told new Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez that he is about as welcome at Stamford Bridge as John Terry is at the home of Wayne Bridge.

After the scoreless draw at home to Manchester City though former Liverpool boss Benitez didn't appear that bothered by the booing from the stands. Rafa, back in the big time after two years out of work, of course has the hide of a rhino.

He'll probably think the Chelsea fans will love him in a fortnight!

They won't.

Chelsea supporters will never take to the Spaniard, who once criticised their lack of passion, their favourite striker Didier Drogba and their Special One Jose Mourinho.

Even if he wins the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League and World Championship this season, to some he'll still be more unpopular than AVB!

Normally new managers receive a warm welcome.

Not this one — war zones have been less hostile.

While Rafa was jeered, his predecessor Roberto Di Matteo, who most feel should have retained his position as boss for longer after leading the Blues to European Cup glory last season,

was cheered, with his name echoing around the stadium at various times, most notably after the 16 minute mark in tribute to the number he wore as a highly accomplished Chelsea midfielder.

It was lucky all this was happening off the pitch because precious little was happening on it in a real anti-climax of a fixture with City failing to take advantage of Chelsea's uncertainty and lack of confidence.

Roberto Mancini's side lacked ambition and a ruthless edge to their play.

This was a good day for Manchester United, who stay top of the table, and a missed opportunity for a City team, who were knocked out of the Champions League in midweek.

Benitez will be content that Chelsea were more disciplined and organised than in recent outings, but the home side had hardly anything going forward with Fernando Torres once again looking like a lost soul.

Haven't we been told that owner Roman Abramovich wants free-flowing entertaining football?

That's what they got early in the season under Di Matteo, before the slump that cost him his job, when Chelsea were playing scintillating stuff with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard given the freedom to express their undoubted talents.

Under the pragmatic Benitez that is not going to happen.

Roman will have to wait for his dream appointment Pep Guardiola to be persuaded to arrive in the summer for Chelsea to be the team everyone wants to watch.

In, arguably, the most uneventful Premier League game of the campaign so far, defenders were much superior to the array of famous attackers on show. Even the late introduction of crazy Mario Balotelli failed to spark the game into life.

Veteran full-back Ashley Cole was the best of the bunch.

Incredibly, Chelsea are going to let him go in the summer — a decision even more baffling than Di Matteo’s sacking.

We really should be getting used to unwanted departures at the Bridge. When Rafa leaves, though, as he will next year, there will be no tears.

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