Baptism of fire for Chelsea boss Benitez as QPR hire Redknapp

Nov 23, 2012

Premier League preview: Benitez may have a tough task against City, but what about Redknapp

IT HAS been one hell of a week for the Premier League and one club in particular. Chelsea fans have been through the mill over the last few days, and their turbulent week will come to a climax with a huge game against Manchester City on Sunday, but before that massive match there will be some other tasty clashes up and down the country. There is the possibility of another managerial scalp at Old Trafford as the United faithful celebrate the career of Sir Alex Ferguson and the QPR fans lament that of Mark Hughes.

Without doubt the most eagerly anticipated game of the weekend for the neutral will be at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, when Rafa Benitez takes charge of Chelsea for the first time, and the opposition could not be any tougher. The visitors are unbeaten league leaders Manchester City.

Where to begin with this game? The first question is what sort of reception the Blues faithful give Benitez, a man they loved to hate when he was in charge of Liverpool. There appears to be little enthusiasm for the appointment among the fans, and the identity of the new manager may have increased the anger over the departure of Roberto Di Matteo and the stewardship of Roman Abramovich.

While manager of Liverpool, Benitez mocked the Chelsea support for constantly waving flags. Will there be a multitude of banners welcoming the new boss fluttering in the breeze on Sunday? We'll see.

Onto his team selection. Fernando Torres was dropped by Di Matteo for his final match in charge and made absolutely no impact when he came on as a sub against Juventus on Tuesday. Will he be in the team on Sunday? It seems likely. Benitez managed to turn Torres into one of the world's best strikers at Liverpool and will surely trust in him once again. It remains to be seen how the usually sullen and sulky Torres responds to his mentor's arrival.

Then there is the issue of the Chelsea midfield. Di Matteo gave Ambramovich what he wanted on two fronts, he won the Champions League and his teams delivered attractive passing football. But that is not the style of play one associates with Benitez, so will he stick with the triumvirate of Mata, Hazard and Oscar in the middle or will he try and shore up the midfield with more defensive players?

If Chelsea have questions to consider, then so do Manchester City. On paper things are going well for the champions, but it's a little different in reality. Roberto Mancini may be top of the table and unbeaten but his side are already out of the Champions League (at least Chelsea still have a mathematical chance of going through) and there is disquiet about his management style. So far this season he has tried out several different formation and no-one at the club seems to know what their best team is or whether they are playing 4-4-2, 3-5-2 or a mixture of both.

Given the background and the build up it is unlikely to be a footballing classic, but it is also unmissable.

Before Benitez takes charge of his first game for Chelsea, another new manager will take a bow as Harry Redknapp watches his latest club QPR take on Manchester United. The former Spurs boss was unveiled as the new Hoops manager on Friday after Mark Hughes got his marching orders, however he will not officially take charge until next week.

Amid the wreckage, you could forgive Alex Ferguson if a wry smile passes his lips this weekend. He will be overseeing his 1,010th league game as king of Old Trafford and has already taken a sly dig at Benitez, describing him as "lucky", to have got the Chelsea job (others might beg to differ). 

Now Fergie he will turn his attention to another chaotic west London outfit. The contrast between second-placed United and bottom club QPR could not be greater. The Scot celebrated 26 years at United earlier this month and, on Friday, just as a statue of Ferguson was about to be unveiled in front of the stand that now bears his name, the Hoops were ushering Hughes out of one door and Redknapp in through another.

Redknapp may be a master motivator but surely his arrival can't inspire QPR to a massively improbable win at Old Trafford after the bedraggled strugglers were comprehensively outplayed by lowly Southampton last weekend.

Saturday's evening kick off sees Arsenal travel to down-at-heel Aston Villa, who have slipped into the relegation zone. This is hard to call, Arsenal appear to have rediscovered some of their early season verve and seemed rejuvenated after their derby-day win over Tottenham last week. However, this is just the sort of banana skin that Arsene Wenger specialises in slipping up on.

If Villa can present Arsenal with a solid defence and a determined midfield the axis of Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla might not have everything their own way. Villa do have a problem though, as manager Paul Lambert will be forced to watch from the stands as he serves a one-match ban for improper conduct.

On Sunday lunchtime Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers returns to his old stamping ground, the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. He will probably be glad to get away from Anfield, where he saw his side twice surrender the lead against Young Boys of Berne in the Europa League on Thursday as they failed to register a home win for the ninth time in 12 games this season.

Swansea are among the teams to have won at Anfield this season, they knocked the Reds out of the League Cup last month. Rodgers will be desperate to exact revenge, and despite the setback in Europe his Liverpool outfit look a lot better now than they did even a month ago. However, they are still below Swansea in the table and would probably take a point from this encounter.

In the weekend's other games Sunderland welcome West Brom to the Stadium of Light, Everton, whose early-season fire has dimmed of late, take on in-form Norwich, Fulham travel to Stoke and Reading head to Wigan. Then on Sunday Newcastle head to the south coast to play Southampton and finally there is the small matter of a London derby between high flying West Ham and Spurs.


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