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Chelsea give Rafa Benitez six months to make mark

Rafa Benitez was confirmed last night as the interim successor to Roberto Di Matteo as manager at Chelsea, with scope for the former Liverpool Champions League winner to stay in the manager's job long-term if he is successful.

Benitez (52) agreed a contract until the end of the season, and although he would not have been the first choice, he will be given the chance to establish himself.

The club said in a statement: "The owner (Roman Abramovich) and the board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives."

Benitez will meet the team tomorrow for the first time after Di Matteo was sacked at around 4.0 yesterday morning as the squad arrived back following their 3-0 defeat to Juventus. That defeat leaves Chelsea on the brink of elimination from the Champions League group stages, which was the final straw for Abramovich.

Pep Guardiola was their first choice but the former Barcelona coach will not abandon his year-long sabbatical in New York.

Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp is also admired at the club, as are Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic and Germany coach Joachim Löw.

During the summer Di Matteo was charged with giving the club a distinctive attacking style. There were doubts over whether he could achieve that, and over the course of the season the club's hierarchy have increasingly felt that the team lacked an identity and style.

He had won the Champions League employing an acutely defensive approach that the club accepted at the time as pragmatic.

The defeat to Juventus, a poor, incoherent display, was the confirmation the club needed to make the change. It left Chelsea with just two wins from their last eight games.

However, the club felt that a messy battle over compensation for any of their key targets would have proved problematic. They wanted a manager in place in time for Sunday's crucial Premier League game against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

The club accept privately that Benitez is not popular with Chelsea fans, because of his association with Liverpool and the two clubs' intense rivalry when Jose Mourinho was in charge at the mid-point of the last decade.

However, they believe that Benitez is capable of implementing the kind of distinctive style and approach they want.

Chelsea felt they had no option but to dismiss Di Matteo early yesterday with news of their approach to Benitez having leaked, announcing that "recent performances and results have not been good enough". (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent