Rafael Benitez silencing his critics at Chelsea
Chelsea fans love to hate Benitez, but what if he leaves Stamford Bridge with two trophies?
It is fair to say that since Rafael Benitez so appallingly accepted the dreaded 'interim' role at Chelsea in November, he has had a fairly rough ride.
From the start he has been public enemy number one at Stamford Bridge, with anti-Benitez banners on show before his side had even kicked a ball.
It did not take long for Mr. Ferguson to get in on the act either. Just like the Chelsea fans themselves, the supposed king of of mind games was goading Benitez, kindly letting him know just how lucky he was to land his latest job.
While Ferguson may have been spot on when talking of the fortunate nature of Bentiez's appointment, has the Spaniard actually done much wrong? It seems to have become viewed as fact (Rafa's favourite word) that this season has been a write-off for Chelsea, yet they could still achieve so much.
The Champions League triumph last season under Roberto Di Matteo was everything Roman Abramovich had been waiting for. Such was his desperation and childish impatience for the trophy, he dismissed two managers with an excellent chance of providing him with it, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti. To then dismiss the manager that provided you with your dream just six months later beggars belief. But let's not be fooled here. Impatience is a character fault in Abramovich, not Benitez.
After all, it is not the fault of Benitez that Chelsea couldn't even pass the group stage to defend Europe's greatest prize. He won his one and only game in the Champions League 6-1, but a Juventus win away at Shaktar made it impossible to finish second.
The Europa League understandably holds little importance to the Chelsea fans while basking in the success of the competition's bigger brother. But if Benitez wins the competition, he has done all he can do, no? Taking a 3-1 lead into their quarter-final second leg against Rubin Kazan, he is certainly on the right track.
The FA cup is another competition in which Benitez mysteriously seems to be doing well. After beating Southampton, Brentford and Middlesborough in the earlier rounds, Chelsea's defeat of Manchester United in a quarter-final replay was Benitez's best moment yet. A semi-final against Manchester City awaits. While clearly nothing is certain against last year's champions, the fact that Benitez remains in two strong competitions means we should surely wait until the end of the season to judge him?
The main criticism that can be levelled at Benitez is patchy league form. There have been poor results, especially at home, including a defeat to QPR and losing a two goal lead to Southampton. It's true that at the time of his sacking, Di Matteo was only three points off the summit of the Premier League. But it's also worth mentioning that at the time of the sacking his team had won just two of the past eight games. A clear decline before Benitez was put in place.
The most optimistic Blues fans may have hoped for a more consistent league campaign. But with Chelsea only finishing sixth last season and a crowd baying for the blood of their own manager, third place may actually present a reasonable achievement. It is still in Chelsea's hands to finish third. It may be time for the critics, both at Stamford Bridge and elsewhere, to put their placards down and see where Rafa can lead his side to.
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