Benitez to leave Chelsea at season's end
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez shouts out instructions during last night's game. Benitez has confirmed he will leave the club at the end of the season.
Middlesbrough 0 Chelsea 2Rafael Benitez has said he will leave Chelsea at the end of the season and described the decision to only make him interim manager as a “massive mistake”.
Benitez who was once again targeted by a section of his own club’s support during last night’s s 2-0 victory at Middlesbrough, was in defiant mood after the game.
He said: “They gave me the title of interim manager which is a massive mistake. I’m the manager and I will manage this club. The fans are not helping us. They have to support the team and I will leave at the end of the season, so they don’t need to waste time with me.”
But last night it seemed as if Benitez’s players feared Middlesbrough’s home was armed with hidden tripwires destined to leave them lying flat on their faces.
Eventually, though, Chelsea got the measure of Tony Mowbray’s impressive team, booking a quarter-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford as it became clear the only genuine Hazard on the pitch was the visitors’ very own Eden.
The influential second-half substitute – who says Benitez cannot do anything right? – helped create the second goal for Victor Moses after Ramires fired a half-volley via Fernando Torres and beyond Jason Steele in the Middlesbrough goal.
They played highlights of Middlesbrough’s 2006 3-0 Premier League win against Chelsea throughout the stadium concourses before kick-off. Boro’s hopes of repeating that feat in an FA Cup context were bolstered by the Chelsea team-sheet. While Nathan Ake made his first start for the visitors, Paulo Ferreira began a game for the first time this season.
With Demba Ba on the bench, Torres was deployed as Chelsea’s lone striker and George Friend, Boro’s left back, would have presumably been quick to dispute suggestions the Spaniard has lost his speed. Yet despite being out-paced by Torres on several occasions Friend, a €115,000 signing from Doncaster Rovers last summer, seemed well up for the challenge, making one splendid sliding tackle on the €57m forward which may have prevented a goal.
Andre Bikey did even better to block Oscar’s shot following Moses’s cross but with Bikey and fellow centre half Stephen McManus taking turns to thwart Torres, Chelsea’s early monopoly of possession was not producing the chances that might have been expected.
Ake and Ramires began well, comfortably controlling midfield, but gradually Mowbray’s players began condensing the space around them, curbing that deep-lying pair’s room for manoeuvre.
Even more encouragingly from the Boro manager’s viewpoint his players were beginning to break slickly, with one counter-attack ending with Scott McDonald directing a header from Nicky Bailey’s cross a yard wide. Benitez cannot have been overjoyed that McDonald had lost Ferreira with consummate ease to leave himself effectively unmarked.
Soon afterwards Bikey hobbled off, perhaps having injured himself in the act of catching Torres with a boot up the backside, but Seb Hines’s introduction failed to interrupt Boro’s improvement. Or Chelsea’s regression.
Indeed Boro’s team might well have taken the lead when Mustapha Carayol deceived Ferreira courtesy of a nifty switch of feet before unleashing a venomous shot from the edge of the area which Petr Cech could only parry.
Happily for Chelsea, John Terry was on hand to clear the rebound before any home player could pounce.
Not only had Boro enjoyed the better openings but, amazingly, goalkeeper Steele was not required to make a significant save throughout the first half. Players such as Rhys Williams, Grant Leadbitter and Faris Haroun had relaxed into a passing groove.
Few neutrals would have believed that Boro had lost seven of their past nine Championship games, winning only one during a dismal sequence which threatens their promotion hopes.
Mowbray’s team tend to struggle during Jonathan Woodgate’s regular injury absences but despite being without their key defender, they looked reasonably assured.
Or at least they did until the 51st minute when Oscar crossed, and after finding his path to goal blocked, Benayoun nudged the ball back to Ramires. The midfielder’s half volley from the edge of the area was helped on its journey into the back of the net by a deflection off Torres’s shoulder.
Hazard’s introduction was to prove inspired, unsettling Boro’s composure. He helped created his side’s second goal by playing a one-two with Oscar which culminated in his feint and square pass to Moses, who netted.
Any creative tensions between Benitez and his players will fade into insignificance next to renewal of the Spaniard’s old acquaintance with Alex Ferguson.