Preview: Great match guaranteed at the Emirates with two high-flying teams
When these two sides last met, there were a number of uncertainties in the Arsenal squad. Who was going to come into the squad ahead of the transfer window closing? Was Arsene Wenger going to be able to get rid of the players who have failed to impress?
Now that we are into October and the transfer window has come to a close, Arsenal fans have a permanent smile from ear to ear, but how long will that last?
Their club is first in the English Premier League, they are playing well, and their current run of form is very promising. With a 12 match win streak away from home, Arsenal will look to continue their positive results with another victory at the Emirates, this time against Rafa Benitez's Napoli side.
Ever since he replaced Roberto Di Matteo as the manager of Chelsea, Rafael Benitez has faced the ire of the club’s supporters largely due to his past love affair with Liverpool and his rivalry with Chelsea favourite Jose Mourinho.
However, with the Europa League final drawing closer, Chelsea fans should be hopeful of some silverware at the end of the season as in the Spaniard, they have a manager who has been very successful in cup competitions and has done especially well in Europe.
Moreover, since establishing his reputation at Valencia all those years ago, Benitez has managed to win a trophy at every club he has been at, which only bodes well for Chelsea who are keen on drawing curtains to the current campaign on a high.
Given the Chelsea owner’s intolerance with underachieving managers, it would be no news if Rafa suffers the sack in the very near future. However, should he remain until the end of the season, it is likely that his short-term contract at Stamford Bridge will not be extended.
So where is it next for the former Liverpool manager? We look at five clubs which could each offer Rafael Benitez an escape route.
Valencia was the club where Benitez first enjoyed notable success. He defied all odds by guiding Los Che to their first league title in 31 years, back in 2002. They enjoyed even more success in 2004 under Benitez’s guidance as they won both La Liga and UEFA Cup titles. From then onwards, Valencia have gone on a decline. Rafa could be the man to resurrect this team which is struggling to compete with giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Having won just two of their last seven fixtures, Chelsea are heading towards the gloom they never expected following a successful closure to the preceding season. Luckily for the Blues, there is still time to make amends and get right back on track.
The FA Cup titleholders have a Fourth Round replay against Brentford. They are also targeting glory in the UEFA Europa League. The prospect of clinching the double seems realistic but there are five things Chelsea must do to rejuvenate their currently stressful season.
1) Get Fernando Torres firing or benched
A fit and firing Fernando Torres is more than enough to destruct stabilized defences on regular basis, this is proven by his record at former clubs Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. “El Nino” has probably been suffering from a lack of confidence ushered by a poor goal scoring record since he joined Chelsea. In Rafa, the Blues have a man who introduced Torres to English football.
Roman Abramovich has been an enigma; he is known to pull the trigger on managers far too easily. Everything looked hunky-dory when Jose Mourinho was in charge of Chelsea.
The self-proclaimed ‘special one’ won back to back titles with the club but something went a miss and he was gone in the wink of an eyebrow. No Chelsea manager has been as successful as Jose Mourinho was during his time at Chelsea.
This hire and fire policy of the owner has been criticized by several football pundits: why would a manager with a proven track record want to join Chelsea knowing that he would be gone in an instant should the club lose a few important matches?
Battles between Chelsea and Arsenal have never stopped being intriguing. Arsenal, during Didier Drogba’s days, was terrorized by the men in blue. However, once they registered a 3-1 victory in 2010, a mental block was seemingly removed. Arsenal won the next encounter 3-5. The most recent encounter ended in a 1-2 win for Chelsea.
Demba Ba vs. Fernando Torres
The first key battle takes place in Chelsea itself. Ba was signed for a small fraction of the fee which Fernando Torres cost. However, Ba is already having a bigger impact than the Spaniard. Ba scored against Southampton in midweek; he has displayed great movement in and around the penalty area. He had already shown for Newcastle that he can score wonderful goals. Torres, despite being naturally gifted, has never managed to click for Chelsea. Ba might just win this one and be handed a start once again.
Chelsea would have, by all means, avoided this away trip if given the choice, since the squad might be jet-lagged after making the 6000 mile trip from Japan.
Moreover, they lost in the final of the Club World Cup against Corinthians and playing Leeds at Ellan Road is not a walk in the park.
Gary Cahill is suspended for this tie after seeing red in the FIFA Club World Cup final.
John Obi Mikel was handed a three match suspension for confronting Mark Clattenburg in the dressing after a league game against Manchester United.
Ramires will also sit out due to suspension.
John Terry is still nursing his injury. Daniel Sturridge has recovered from his hamstring injury but may not be risked against Leeds.
Leeds captain Lee Peltier is struggling for fitness, while Swansea and West Brom loanees Alan Tate and Jerome Thomas are cup tied.
1. Chelsea’s victory over Nordsjalland
For a moment, just ignore the fact that Chelsea played Nordsjaelland in their final Champions League group game. They played an incredible match overall. The second half saw Chelsea attacks which simply oozed class. At the end of the day, they were knocked out due to a rule which perhaps needs revising- the head to head rule.
Winning 6-1 in a Champions League match is something to be proud of. Only one team has achieved the feat this season- FC Bayern against Lille.
Chelsea’s promising display should earn Benitez some trust from the management despite the opposition it came against. A good performance which is worth every penny paid by the fans is at the end of the day the most important thing.
It has been quite some time since any of these two sides tasted victory. Rafael Benitez would argue that he needs to win most on Wednesday. The former Liverpool head coach received a hostile reception by home fans on his Chelsea debut last weekend. Only success on the pitch can help Roberto Di Matteo’s heir to tone down the Blues’ furious supporters.
Meanwhile, also under intense pressure is Fernando Torres. The ex-Atletico Madrid star has gone 559 minutes without scoring a goal in the English Premier League. This is definitely not the kind of statistics that Russian owner Roman Abramovich wants to observe from his £50M signing.
Did Di Matteo deserve the sack?
Roberto Di Matteo won Chelsea a trophy that is coveted by just about every major club in Europe: the UEFA Champions League title. They beat two established teams of the competition against all odds in Barcelona and Bayern München to do so.
He earned the trust of his players; his players won the Champions League by trusting each other, not by outplaying opponents. Unity also saw the Blues achieve FA Cup glory. Suddenly, the bad period under Andre Villas-Boas became something of the past. In a blink of an eye, Roberto Di Matteo installed a strong feeling of confidence in the camp and the team clinched the double.
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The ex-Liverpool boss will make his managerial debut under Roman Abramovich without influential skipper John Terry and playmaker Frank Lampard. Both players are still injured. All eyes will be on Fernando Torres who started on the bench in Chelsea’s heavy loss to Juventus in midweek. Rumours claim that the Spaniard played a part in Rafael Benitez’s arrival at the Bridge.
Torres spent his best years at Anfield and the reunion with Rafa may help him find back his power in front of goal. He is likely to be deployed as a lone striker against Manchester City as Daniel Sturridge remains a doubt.
Rafael Benitez was the favourite to land the job ahead of former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. A statement on Chelsea’s official website read:
“Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season.
“The owner 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.”
Roberto Di Matteo was sacked on Wednesday morning, hours after Chelsea’s terrible 3-0 defeat to Juventus. This result has left the Blues in an awkward position to qualify for the Last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.