Chelsea's Benitez braced for Stamford Bridge return
LONDON (AFP) –
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez will face the wrath of his new club’s fans for the second time in four days on Wednesday when they tackle London rivals Fulham in the Premier League.
The former Liverpool coach was roundly booed during Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with Manchester City in his first game at the helm on Sunday and supporter groups have pledged to repeat their protests when Fulham come to Stamford Bridge.
Benitez has not been forgiven for his tenure at Liverpool, but he has repeatedly dismissed concerns about the animosity directed towards him by his new club’s supporters.
“I was asking, ‘What were they singing?’” he admitted after the City game.
“I don’t care. I’m just focused on the game.”
When informed what some of the fans had chanted, Benitez said it was to be expected after the barrage of questions he received from journalists when he was presented to the media last week.
“It was a surprise for you after the other day?” he asked reporters.
“Some of the fans will realise it’s not the way to support their team.”
Sunday’s draw with City, in the first match since Roberto Di Matteo was sacked as coach, left the European champions five points below leaders Manchester United in fifth place.
Chelsea have now gone five games without a league win, but Fulham’s form has been scarcely better, with Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Stoke City extending their own run of matches without victory to five as well.
The stalemate at the Bridge was only the second time in 31 matches that City have failed to score, but the defending champions will expect to fare better in front of goal at Wigan Athletic on Wednesday.
Wigan have the fourth most porous defence in the top flight and although they showed impressive resolve to beat Reading 3-2 on Saturday, City’s forwards will view the trip to the DW Stadium as a good opportunity to get back on track.
With United just a point above City in the standings, midfielder James Milner has urged his teammates to show more killer instinct in front of goal.
“We have got things to work on,” Milner told City TV.
“We need to take our chances. We had a number of corners (against Chelsea) and chances that didn’t go our way.
“When we are on top in games and have territory and chances, we are not quite putting teams to bed like we should be.”
For leaders United, who host West Ham United, the concern is the frequency with which Alex Ferguson’s team have had to come back from behind this season.
Saturday’s 3-1 win over bottom club Queens Park Rangers was the ninth time in 13 games that United have conceded the initiative in the Premier League since the start of the campaign.
Ferguson also has problems on the flanks, with Nani out with a hamstring injury and Antonio Valencia doubtful due to a hip problem.
“We’ll see what Antonio is like today (Monday) and tomorrow,” said Ferguson.
“We’ve got plenty of options in the midfield and up front — it’s just the two wide positions.”
West Ham’s fans will be under close scrutiny at Old Trafford, after allegations of anti-Semitic chanting in Sunday’s 3-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur prompted the Football Association to open an investigation.
There are eight top-flight matches on Wednesday, with fifth-place Everton out to prove their Champions League credentials against the team immediately below them, Arsenal.
High-flying West Bromwich Albion, third, travel to Swansea City, while Spurs host Liverpool, promoted Southampton welcome Norwich City to the south coast and Newcastle United visit Stoke.
Fixtures (1945GMT unless otherwise stated)
Everton v Arsenal, Swansea City v West Bromwich Albion, Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool, Southampton v Norwich City, Chelsea v Fulham, Stoke City v Newcastle United, Manchester United v West Ham United (2000GMT), Wigan Athletic v Manchester City (2000GMT)