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Rafa in frame for Chelsea

CHELSEA are considering turning to Rafael Benitez or Avram Grant as their temporary manager after Roberto Di Matteo was sacked this morning.

A Chelsea club statement, released this morning, read: "Chelsea Football Club has parted company this morning with manager Roberto Di Matteo.

"The team's recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and the Board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season.

"The club faces a difficult task ahead in qualifying for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League as well as maintaining a strong challenge for the top of the Premier League while competing in three other cup competitions.

"Our aim is to remain as competitive as possible and challenge strongly on all fronts.

"The owner and the Board would like to thank Roberto for all he has done for the club since taking over in March.

"Roberto helped guide us to an historic Champions League victory and a seventh FA Cup. We will never forget the huge contribution he has made to this club's history and he will always be welcome at Stamford Bridge.

"The club will be making an announcement shortly regarding a new first team manager."

Pep Guardiola remains Abramovich's first choice to take over from Di Matteo, who last night said he took "full responsibility" for a 3-0 defeat to Juventus in Turin that threw his and the club's Champions League future this season into doubt.

Should Chelsea fail to make the knockout stages, they will be the first holders to do so.

If Guardiola insists he wants to stick to his plan of taking a season's sabbatical from football - and not return to management before next summer - Abramovich will look for a short-term replacement.

Benitez refused to accept a similar scenario when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked in March - insisting he wanted to be made a permanent manager on at least an 18-month contract.

Tension

He may be able to persuade Abramovich to agree to that deal now, especially if Guardiola rules out any move to Chelsea, and it is understood there has been direct contact between the pair.

Grant is readily available and despite being sacked by Chelsea in 2008, when he took the club to the Champions League final, having amazingly succeeded Jose Mourinho, it is believed he would be keen to return.

Either appointment would not be welcomed by Chelsea supporters - who will be stunned that Grant is in the frame - unless they were short term with Guardiola then taking over at the end of the season.

Abramovich has a high-regard for Benitez although he is not popular with Chelsea fans. Di Matteo, despite winning the Champions League, never convinced Abramovich he was the right man.

The club's defence of the trophy is now out of their hands, with Juventus needing only a point in the final group match at Shakhtar Donetsk to join the Ukrainians in the last 16. Chelsea will face FC Nordsjaelland where they must win and hope.

Abramovich is understood to have discussed Di Matteo's position with his advisors following the league defeat at West Bromwich Albion, and last night's result in Turin was the final straw for the Russian oligarch.

Chelsea face league leaders Manchester City on Sunday at Stamford Bridge, which leaves the club with only four days to find a caretaker manager.

Failed

Di Matteo accepted responsibility for last night's defeat, which came after he omitted Fernando Torres from the starting XI for the first time this season, and said he would continue to work for the team.

Di Matteo said last night: "I'm responsible for the result. I'm responsible for the performance.

"It's a negative evening for us. If anyone has to take the blame, it's me. I selected a team I was convinced was the right team to win against Juventus, or get at least a draw, so the blame belongs to me."

Di Matteo's selection saw Eden Hazard lead the attack in Torres's place, with Cesar Azpilicueta deployed on the right side of midfield to provide cover for Branislav Ivanovic. The selection failed to make Chelsea appreciably harder to break down, though Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata offered an occasional threat.

The omission of Torres was a risk given Abramovich's fondness for his £50million indulgence.

But Di Matteo defended the omission, saying: "I was convinced it was the right selection which is why I decided that. I thought we did create some problems for them.

"But my conviction was 100 per cent to go with this team."


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