Chelsea line up Rafa Benitez as Andre Villas-Boas awaits his fate
CHELSEA'S André Villas-Boas admits speculation over his future at Chelsea will intensify after the defeat against Napoli, with strong indications that Roman Abramovich is considering swapping the Portguese coach with Rafael Benítez until the end of the season.
Speaking after the 3-1 defeat at Napoli which places Chelsea in severe danger of being knocked out of the Champions League, Villas-Boas ¬conceded that although he hoped he maintained Abramovich’s full ¬support, he could “not speculate” on whether he would be in charge for the return leg.
He also said that defensive errors were costing his team and that he had spoken to both Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole before kick-off to explain their surprise omissions, which TV pundit Jamie Redknapp called “career suicide”. It is understood Lampard was furious when told he was not playing.
Villas-Boas said: “I had a conversation with Ashley and Frank. Through the players that they are and the players with the experience they have, they felt they could have helped the team
"That’s perfectly understandable. In the end, Ashley had the opportunity to come on for José Bosingwa with his injury, and Lamps later on in the game. Of course, they were disappointed but they were decisions they have to accept and move on.”
Whether Villas-Boas now moves on remains to be seen, but Abramovich is understood to be actively considering his options, and has been doing so for the past 10 days. If he does decide to make a change then Benítez is thought to be the most likely successor because of his availability, his experience in England and, perhaps crucially, his history of getting the best out of Fernando Torres, who did not feature last night.
It is understood Abramovich is considering a number of coaches, including Quique Sánchez Flores, who won the Europa League with Atletico Madrid in 2010, and coaches in Spain.
Abramovich wants a coach who can speak fluent English and also one who might take only a short-term contract until the end of the season when Chelsea will assess their options.
Whether Abramovich does actually make a change is far from certain, but Villas-Boas appears more vulnerable, with one source suggesting last night that it was “75 per cent certain” that if a change was made, Chelsea would go for Benítez.
Abramovich’s resolve is being tested after an error-strewn display in which Chelsea threw away an early lead and were fortunate to escape with just a two-goal deficit.
They now have to become only the fourth club in Champions League history to reverse such a deficit in a second leg and aim to do so against a highly dangerous Napoli side who have scored away from home in each of their previous three ties in this ¬competition.
“It’s a negative result, of course,” Villas-Boas said. “But a result we are sure we can turn around at the Bridge due to the amount of chances we had. Being more clinical and more efficient in front of goal was the difference between the teams.
“We have to solve these mistakes at the back so that you can profit better from the amount of opportunities you have and the goals you score. We need this concentration right and this efficiency right for sure.
“At the moment, without John Terry, a very important player for the team, we have suffered a lot of goals recently.”
Villas-Boas, who has already effectively called for a vote of confidence from the Chelsea hierarchy over his own future, maintained that he had omitted Lampard — and Michael Essien — through “technical decisions” as he altered his formation to 4-2-3-1 but added: “Whatever explanation I give you, in the end it would be a fantastic explanation if we’d won the game. Any explanation is now useless given the result of the game, so there’s no point.”
Villas-Boas again felt moved to defend David Luiz, who was culpable for Napoli’s third goal. “When we ¬suffer goals, if we suffer goals through that player, that player becomes ¬scrutinised,” he said.
“It’s obvious that that player has become a target. When you suffer three goals, you have to do much better. We will look at the team, always, and the individuals, assess and try to correct them.
"He’s a fantastic young player with a big future ahead of him, and he has to work to try and be a bit better.”