Chelsea’s interim head coach Rafael Benitez attends a media conference at their training ground in Cobham, south of London, yesterday.
LONDON: Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech says Rafael Benitez must be given a chance to make his mark at the club, ahead of a potentially stormy Premier League derby with local rivals Fulham today.
Benitez can only hope the club’s dissenting supporters eventually accept him, although the evidence of the new interim manager’s first game in charge suggests that is unlikely to happen soon.
Benitez will take charge of his second game since succeeding Roberto Di Matteo when Fulham visit Stamford Bridge, three days after Chelsea were held to a scoreless home draw by Premier League champions Manchester City.
The Spaniard was given an early indication during that game of the depth of resentment held towards him by some of the club’s fans, who have not forgiven him for his role in the intense rivalry that has existed between Chelsea and Benitez’s former club, Liverpool.
Some supporters have suggested the protests will continue, ensuring another difficult atmosphere for the home side as they attempt to revive their flagging season.
“I think there’ll always be a resentment,” said Tim Rolls, a shareholder in Chelsea Pitch Owners, the fan-led group that owns the freehold of the Chelsea ground.
“If he has a lot of success in winning games, then I think there’s likely to be a solemn acceptance, but the supporters aren’t going to sing his name.”
Chelsea’s performance against City offered few distractions and Benitez will expect an improvement when his side confront the club’s near neighbours and attempt to revive their title ambitions.
Lying fourth, five points behind leaders Manchester United, Chelsea can ill afford to drop points and Cech admits they cannot afford a bedding in period.
“We, as players, need to adapt quickly and start thinking positively in order to work with the manager and give him what he needs to help get results,” he said.
“We need to put things right. We got a good point (against City), and hopefully on Wednesday we’ll win our game and push on from there.
“(Benitez) is here to change things, to put us in a winning mode, and he needs to be given a chance.”
Fulham will attempt to claim a first win at Stamford Bridge in 33 years on the back of successive defeats and a run of five games without a win.
That has left them in mid-table after an enterprising start to the season and they will again be without influential centre-back Brede Hangeland, who serves the second game of a three-match ban after being sent off against Sunderland.
Meanwhile, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is demanding a return to the ruthless accuracy from his strikers that fired the club to their first league title since 1968 in May.
City travel to the DW Stadium to face Wigan Athletic today after a goalless draw at European champions Chelsea on Sunday left them a point behind leaders Manchester United in the Premier League.
In itself a point from Stamford Bridge is no disgrace, but the alarm bells have begun to ring for the City manager.
No rivals possess a stronger strike force than City’s attacking roster of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, all of whom were given a chance to break the Chelsea deadlock.
But while only neighbours United have scored more than City’s 25 goals, a comparison with last season reveals why Mancini is anxious.
City had scored 43 goals by this stage a year ago, winning 6-1 at Old Trafford and 5-1 at Tottenham Hotspur, while Aguero and Dzeko each had 10 goals to their name. Dzeko currently has six, the same number as Tevez, while Aguero has scored five times.
With Champions League ambitions dashed for this season at least, Mancini wants an end to the misfiring as he readjusts his sights on retaining the Premier League title; a feat so far achieved by only United and Chelsea.
Meanwhile, midfielder Anderson could return to the Manchester United team at home to West Ham United today as injuries and suspensions unsettle the Premier League leaders’ squad. United manager Alex Ferguson has several decisions to make about his starting line-up, with the midfield area particularly problematic. Paul Scholes is suspended after being booked in the weekend victory over Queens Park Rangers, while Darren Fletcher may be rested, despite scoring against QPR, as he fights his way back from a career-threatening bowel disease.
Winger Antonio Valencia is also expected to miss the visit of Sam Allardyce’s team, after being absent from the 3-1 win over Rangers with a hip problem, while fellow wide player Nani has been ruled out with a hamstring complaint. It all points to a more significant role for Brazilian Anderson, who has failed to scale the dizzy heights expected of him when he signed for £20m from Porto in 2007. AGENCIES