Baptism of Fire for Benitez as Chelsea Host Wounded Man City
Torres scored for Chelsea against City in the season opening Community Shield. Can Benitez restore him to his fearsome form?
Even without the dramatic events of midweek, Sunday’s Premier League clash between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge was always going to be a fiercely contested affair with numerous subplots. Man city, the current champions are following what could be termed the “Chelsea blueprint” where a very rich billionaire buys a previously average side and spends millions of dollars to make them competitive. City, just like Chelsea before them have proven that – to an extent –money can buy success.
However, the two heavyweights enter today’s showdown on the back of similarly rough weeks in Europe, with City having crashed out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage for a second successive year, while Chelsea’s qualification hopes are hanging by a thread.
Sunday’s match was already guaranteed to be a spicy affair because of both teams league positions. The two richest clubs in England are second and third on the table, with unbeaten City holding a four point advantage over early League leaders Chelsea.
Add to this, the fact that Chelsea would be looking to avenge the defeat against City in the Community Shield when a goal by Fernando Torres put the Londoners in the driving seat before a red card handed to Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic altered the balance of the game which City ruthlessly exploited, eventually winning 3-2.
Hero out, villain in…
As if the above were not enough reasons to put this match in the “must watch” category, the sacking of Chelsea’s Roberto Di Matteo after the Blues’ crushing 3-0 loss to Juventus , and the appointment of former nemesis Rafael Benitez as the club’s new manager, have suddenly placed added importance on this evenings proceedings.
Many Chelsea fans believe that club owner Roman Abramovich was hasty in showing Di Matteo the door, just six months after leading the team to an improbable Champions League win, a first for the club and the title regarded as the Russian oligarchs’ Holy Grail.
But the Chelsea owner has been known to be impatient in the past; he is willing to nip bad runs in the bud rather than hope for a revival and seemed to believe Di Matteo could not halt the regression of a team that had failed to win in four Premier League matches, were conceding goals at an alarming rate and are almost guaranteed elimination in Europe.
However appointing Rafa Benitez, a manager that has shown disdain and poured scorn on Chelsea in the past is a harder pill to swallow for many of the clubs supporters. There are concerns that some might voice their displeasure this evening.
On the plus side, some others hope Benitez would help restore Fernando Torres, a player devastating under the tutelage of his fellow Spaniard when they were at Liverpool, but a pale shadow of the goal machine that prompted Chelsea to shell out a record 50 million pounds for.
Benitez is also widely regarded as an astute tactician, a fact Chelsea fans can attest to. He masterminded two Champions League semi final victories over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea with considerably lesser resources at his disposal when he was at Liverpool.
The question however is; is it possible for him to have already stamped his authority on the team and transmitted his ideas to the players in time for this match?
A win Sunday and he might finally convince the doubters that he is the man for the job. A loss and his detractors will have enough ammunition to ensure Chelsea’s ninth manager in nine years doesn’t even last till the end of the season.