Chelsea's Benitez in search of West Ham blow
LONDON (AFP) –
European champions Chelsea may be third in the Premier League but that will be little consolation to interim manager Rafael Benitez as he takes his side across London to West Ham on Saturday.
Two successive goalless draws is not what owner Roman Abramovich wanted after sacking Roberto di Matteo, the man who brought the European Cup to Stamford Bridge for the first time courtesy of last season’s Champions League triumph.
And those performances, against Manchester City and derby rivals Fulham, have done little to alter the hostility felt towards Benitez by a large section of Chelsea fans on account of the Spaniard’s outspoken comments about the Blues when he was Liverpool manager.
Even wins may not be enough to appease those sections of the Chelsea faithful who remain implacably opposed to his appointment.
But a win, not to mention a goal, at West Ham would be a start in an early kick-off fixture where victory would see the Blues close to within four points of Manchester United before the leaders are in action at Reading.
“If you analyse 10 games without a clean sheet, when the team are attacking and then you give the chance to the other team to score, you lose your confidence,” said Benitez.
“The main thing is to keep a solid team with good shape and then we have to take the chances we create with the talent we have up front.”
United travel to Reading following a midweek 1-0 win where it took striker Robin van Persie just 33 seconds to score the fastest goal of the Premier League season so far.
Moreover, that match saw United rid themselves of the worrying habit they’ve developed this season of conceding first.
“The clean sheet is something to build on because the performance needs to be better,” insisted United midfielder Michael Carrick in words that could have been borrowed from manager Alex Ferguson.
Meanwhile Manchester City, still the only unbeaten side in the league, are at home to Everton with manager Roberto Mancini demanding more of Mario Balotelli after the striker opened his Premier League account for the season with the first goal in a 2-0 midweek win at Wigan.
“It’s his first goal this year (season) and I hope he can improve after that game,” Mancini said of his fellow Italian.
West Brom, still fourth despite a 3-1 midweek defeat by Swansea, will look to return to winning ways at home to Stoke while Tottenham, whose 2-1 win over Liverpool took them up into fifth place, make the cross-London trip to Fulham.
Arsenal welcome Swansea to the Emirates following a 1-1 draw at Everton.
Southampton, still in the relegation zone, travel to Liverpool — the club where Saints manager Nigel Adkins was once a schoolboy goalkeeper.
“Obviously they’re going through a transition at this moment in time, but it is a game that we’ll look forward to, as we do every game in the Premier League,” said Adkins.
Liverpool are just four points above the relegation zone and Reds manager Brendan Rodgers has called on the rest of his players to ease the burden on captain Steven Gerrard.
“He’s carried this club for nearly 13 years and it’s about time that there was more than Steven picking up the baton of responsibility,” said Rodgers of the England midfielder.
Bottom of the table QPR, who drew away to Sunderland in their first match under Harry Redknapp, will look to give their new manager a maiden win at home to fellow strugglers Aston Villa.
Fixtures (1500GMT unless stated)
Saturday: Arsenal v Swansea, Fulham v Tottenham, Liverpool v Southampton, Manchester City v Everton, QPR v Aston Villa, Reading v Manchester United (1730GMT), West Brom v Stoke, West Ham v Chelsea (1245GMT)
Sunday: Norwich v Sunderland (1600GMT)
Monday: Newcastle v Wigan (2000GMT)