Chelsea's interim manager Rafael Benitez was named the Premier League Manager of the Month for April, becoming the first Chelsea manager to win the award since Carlo Ancelotti in April 2011.
Benitez oversaw an unbeaten run of four games in April where the Blues took 10 points out of a possible 12, with the only dropped points coming in a 2-2 draw at Anfield against his former team, Liverpool.
That run of impressive results means the Blues are on course to qualify for next season’s Champions league as they lie in third on the league standings ahead of north London rivals, Arsenal and Tottenham.
Under the Spaniard’s guidance, the Blues have continued from where they left off in April by progressing to the final of the Europa League with a 3-1 second leg win on Thursday over Swiss side FC Basel to book their ticket to Amsterdam on May 15 with a 5-2 aggregate win.
It is disheartening that, despite the Spaniard’s success at the club so far, he remains an unpopular figure at Chelsea. Some may argue that for a club that was trailing Manchester United by just four points in November to have turned to top-four battlers under Benitez’s reign so far is nothing short of failure.
But that would mean being unfair to the former Valencia coach, as he is by no means responsible for Chelsea’s disappointing season. The Blues had already hit a bad patch in terms of result when the 53-year old was brought in to steady the ship. Chelsea had managed to win just one of their last four matches, and had lost four of their last eight in all competitions before a 3-0 loss to Juventus in Turin left all hopes of defending the Champions league title they won last year in tatters - and ultimately ended Roberto Di Matteo’s tenure as Chelsea manager.
With the Europa League remaining as the only piece of silverware Chelsea can win as a consolation from a season that had looked promising initially, many critics have been quick to point accusing fingers at Benitez once more but that is hardly true as Chelsea had already lost the Community Shield, the UEFA Super Cup and the Champions League before Benitez took over the reins as manager.
Benitez’s appointment saw the Blues reach the semi-finals of both domestic cups, eliminating Manchester United in the quarter-final of the FA Cup in the process before succumbing to United's neighbours, Manchester City, in the semi-finals.
The major disappointment in Rafa’s tenure so far remains his inability to win the Club World Cup against Corinthians last December - a defeat that could have been avoided had the club’s supporters put their hatred for Benitez aside and offered the team their support.
Despite initially struggling to adapt to the harsh environment he has been treated to at Stamford Bridge since his arrival, Benitez seems to have put that behind him and “his” Chelsea team have gotten into their stride at the right time as they continue their push for Champions League football next season as well as claim their second European title in two years.
Benitez might feel aggrieved that his hard work has not been appreciated at the Bridge, but his Manager of the Month award should bring some joy when he departs at the end of the season.
At least some have deemed it fit to reward his hard work.
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