Benitez puts faith in Fernando Torres once more – to no avail
Chelsea fans welcome interim manager with chorus of boos and get to witness a dire 0-0 draw in return
Chelsea 0 Manchester City 0. Chelsea fans welcomed new manager Rafa Benitez to Stamford Bridge with a chorus of boos and offensive chants, a taste of what awaits the Spaniard over the next six months.
It's not just that Benitez has stepped into the shoes of Roberto Di Matteo, sacked last week by owner Roman Abramovich, that has so infuriated the Chelsea faithful, but also that he used to be in charge at Liverpool.
There was no love lost then between Benitez and Blues fans, and judging by the reception he received when he was introduced to the crowd prior to yesterday's game, he'll have to work wonders to win over the Bridge between now and the end of the season. At one point the City fans serenaded Benitez with a chant of 'You're Just a Fat Spanish Waiter' - and the Chelsea fans joined in.
His side certainly didn't do that on Sunday, combining with City to conjure up 90 minutes of dire football that did neither club any good in the title race. The results leaves Manchester United at the top of the Premier League on 30 points, one more than the Sky Blues. Chelsea, who this time last month were leading the pack, are now five points adrift of United and still searching for their first Premier League win since beating Tottenham 4-2 on 20 October.
Benitez stamped his mark on his new team by recalling Fernando Torres (who he signed for Liverpool in 2007) and pairing David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic at centre-half - something Di Matteo never did. And though Chelsea did keep their first clean sheet in 11 matches, neither Torres nor any of his teammates looked like scoring as the rain bucketed down.
The main talking point after the game was the vicious welcome accorded Benitez by his own supporters, but just as notable was the support offered Di Matteo by Chelsea fans, which included a sustained outburst of applause on 16 minutes - 16 being the shirt number Di Matteo once wore as a Chelsea player.
Asked later what he thought of his initiation to Chelsea, Benitez replied: "I am focused on the game, I don't listen to the crowd. The main thing was the team on the pitch. I was not listening, I was just concentrating on the game... If we start winning games they will come on board."
As for the game itself Benitez, who was sacked as Inter Milan coach in 2010 after just six months in charge, said: "It was a tough game against a good team, no clear chances for them or us. It's not the ideal (result) but to have a clean sheet and to see the spirit and mentality and work rate was quite positive."
At least Benitez appears to have found a friend in Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, one of the few players to speak up in his favour after the match. He asked fans to go easy on the gaffer, saying: “We had a lot of rivalry against Liverpool but he is here to try to change things, put us in a winning mode, and he needs to get a chance to prove he deserves the chance."
But one game gone and only a point to show for it... with Abramovich's track record for hiring and firing, that probably means Benitez is already living on borrowed time. ·