LONDON, England, November 25 – Rafael Benitez was the target of angry jeers and taunts from fans of his new club Chelsea on Sunday as his tenure as manager began with a 0-0 draw at home to Manchester City.
Appointed as first-team coach on an interim basis after Roberto Di Matteo was sacked, Benitez has not been forgiven by some Chelsea fans for his spell as manager of rivals Liverpool.
He was roundly booed prior to kick-off at Stamford Bridge, while fans chanted in support of Di Matteo and brandished banners bearing the Italian’s name.
“I can guarantee that I’m focused on the game, so I don’t listen to the crowd,” Benitez told Sky Sports afterwards.
“If they say something or not, the main focus is on the team. I was not listening, I was just concentrating on the game.
“You could see my body language in the dug-out. I was trying to give instructions to my players, and that was it.”
The game itself was forgettable and saw City squander the opportunity to recover first place in the table from Manchester United, who beat Queens Park Rangers 3-1 on Saturday.
The defending champions now trail United by a point, with Chelsea four points further back in fourth place and without a win in five games.
Benitez recalled Fernando Torres, his former protege at Liverpool, and kept faith with the attacking trident of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata deployed by Di Matteo.
While Benitez had to endure a hostile reception, Chelsea’s fans reserved a respectful tribute for their late manager Dave Sexton prior to kick-off, with a minute’s applause observed to mark his passing on Saturday at the age of 82.
It was the visitors who created the clearest chances of the first half, with David Silva heading over a cross from Pablo Zabaleta, who also obliged Petr Cech to save with his legs.
Torres and Ashley Cole both shot over for Chelsea in the second half, while City left-back Aleksandar Kolarov headed straight at Cech in injury time.
“We had the better chances — I think that we lost two points,” said City coach Roberto Mancini.
“We dominated the first half, but the second half was not quite like that.
“(The atmosphere) was difficult for them, but we played well. Last year we lost a good game (2-1), this year we took one point.”
Tottenham Hotspur climbed up to seventh place, level on points with north London rivals Arsenal, after ending a three-game losing streak with a 3-1 win at home to West Ham United.
Referee Mark Clattenburg made his return as the fourth official at White Hart Lane, in his first engagement since he was cleared by the Football Association over allegations he racially abused Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel.
Jermain Defoe broke the deadlock just before half-time with a superb individual effort, while the irrepressible Gareth Bale got on the scoresheet in the 58th minute before Defoe tapped home a second.
On-loan Liverpool striker Andy Carroll replied for the visitors in the 82nd minute to claim his first goal of the campaign.
Newcastle United coach Alan Pardew’s return to former club Southampton ended in defeat as the Saints won 2-0 to record a second consecutive victory and move out of the relegation zone.
Record signing Gaston Ramirez set up captain Adam Lallana in the 34th minute and then got on the score-sheet himself on the hour to condemn Newcastle to a third straight league defeat.
Earlier, Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers had to content himself with a 0-0 draw on his return to former club Swansea City, as the Reds extended their unbeaten league run to eight games.
The result took Liverpool back above Stoke City into 11th place and saw Swansea climb to ninth.
Rodgers’ impact on the playing styles of both sides was evident throughout an even game at a rain-soaked Liberty Stadium, as the two teams sought to control possession with exchanges of short passes.
Spanish midfielder Pablo Hernandez twice threatened for Swansea in the first half, while Liverpool had a Jose Enrique goal disallowed for offside and saw teenage winger Raheem Sterling crack the crossbar with a fierce half-volley.
Swansea goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel had to save from Luis Suarez, twice, and Jonjo Shelvey after half-time, with the hosts’ best chance an Ashley Williams header that Swans old boy Joe Allen cleared off the line.