Benitez looks to mastermind victory over Man City
LONDON - The Associated Press
Benitez starts his tenure at Chelsea with a difficult Premier League game against titleholder Manchester City. EPA photoRafael Benitez can boost his standing among the Chelsea fans skeptical of his appointment as interim manager by masterminding a victory over unbeaten leader Manchester City in the Premier League on Nov. 25.
After nearly two years out of management, Benitez was brought in on Nov. 21 to replace the fired Roberto Di Matteo with Chelsea’s league challenge faltering and a successful defense of its Champions League title looking unlikely.
A lot has changed since Benitez last worked in the Premier League - the final game of his six-year stint at Liverpool was in May 2010 - and that includes the emergence of big-spending City as a force.
After winning the title last season, City has climbed back to the top of the standings and is four points ahead of third-place Chelsea going into the match at Stamford Bridge.
Manchester United, which was toppled by City after a surprise 1-0 loss at Norwich on Saturday, hosts last-place Queens Park Rangers. A home victory could be the final straw for under-fire QPR manager Mark Hughes - a former United player.
City’s first loss of last season came at Chelsea, and if the European champions can repeat those exploits 11 months ago, Benitez would go a long way to convincing those supporters who doubt whether his hiring until the end of the season is an upgrade from Di Matteo.
“Rafa Benitez is a great coach,” Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata said. “He’s got lots of experience and won a lot of trophies with Liverpool, taking them to a very high level. He knows the Premier League, too.”
Benitez’s first dilemma is whether to recall misfiring striker Fernando Torres, who was dropped by Di Matteo for the 3-0 loss at Juventus in the Champions League on Nov. 20. Benitez and Torres enjoyed a strong working relationship at Liverpool, with the striker producing the best form of his career.
Benitez also has to shore up a leaky defense that is still missing injured captain John Terry, at a time when City’s attack seems to have clicked.
The defending champion thrashed Aston Villa 5-0 last weekend and created enough chances late in the 1-1 draw against Real Madrid on Nov. 21 to have scraped a win that would have kept its qualification hopes alive. Argentinian forwards Sergio Aguero and Carlos Teves have been scoring freely.