LONDON, England, November 23 – Rafael Benitez began his reign as Chelsea interim manager insisting working with Roman Abramovich will be “easier” than the US ownership duo of George Gillett and Tom Hicks he knew at Liverpool.
Benitez arrived at Chelsea on Thursday and so became the club’s ninth manager in just over eight years under the ownership of Russian billionaire Abramovich.
Former Liverpool coach Benitez, 52, is only under contract until the end of the current season after replacing Roberto di Matteo, sacked on Wednesday after European champions Chelsea lost 3-0 at Juventus in the Champions League.
Chelsea’s rapid turnover of managers under Abramovich has long been a topic of discussion in English football.
But Benitez, who on Thursday had still to meet the Blues owner, said the experience could not be worse than the difficult relationship with Gillett and Hicks that led to the Spaniard’s departure from Liverpool two years ago.
“If you have two bosses who aren’t talking to each other, it’s difficult,” said Benitez. “You want a striker and one of them says: ‘I don’t know…’
“This will be easier.”
Benitez will have a tough baptism of fire on Sunday when Manchester City, fresh from a draw with Real Madrid that scuppered their hopes of reaching the Champions League last 16 for the second season in a row, arrive in west London with a four-point lead over the hosts.
“Chelsea tried to win the Champions League for 10 years,” said City manager Roberto Mancini. “The Champions League is strange, different, and we have to be patient for this.”
Manchester United can overtake cross-town rivals City, if only for a day, at the summit when they face a bottom of the table QPR still looking for a first league win this season under Old Trafford old boy Mark Hughes on Saturday.
The match will be United’s first since Friday’s scheduled unveiling of a statue of manager Alex Ferguson who, in contrast to the managerial maelstrom elsewhere, has presided over the club for 26 years.
“He’s a great example for all managers and it’s great to work with him,” said Nemanja Vidic, the United captain, of his 71-year-old Scottish boss.
“You learn something new from him every day. I have learnt a lot from him, not just as a footballer but in life (in general).”
West Bromwich Albion, the surprise package among the top four, will look to continue their impressive start under former Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clarke when they travel to Sunderland.
Arsenal and Everton will try to press their top four claims against Aston Villa and Norwich respectively with Gunners manager Arsene Wenger buoyed by the fact the top teams all seem to be dropping points.
“With what is going on in the league, it looks like the team that can show consistency has a chance and if we are able to show consistency now we have a chance to come back to the top teams,” said Wenger.
Sunday sees Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers taking his team to former club Swansea, with both sides in mid-table.
Meanwhile strugglers Southampton will look to build on last week’s win over QPR at home to Newcastle as London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham meet at White Hart Lane.
Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated)
Saturday: Aston Villa v Arsenal (1730GMT), Everton v Norwich, Manchester United v QPR, Stoke v Fulham, Sunderland v West Brom (1245GMT), Wigan v Reading
Sunday: Swansea v Liverpool (1330GMT), Southampton v Newcastle, Chelsea v Manchester City (1600GMT), Tottenham v West Ham (1600GMT).