Chelsea 0 Manchester City 0
There was mutiny in the stands at Stamford Bridge as Rafa Benitez started his time in charge of Chelsea with an uninspiring goalless draw against Manchester City; and was left in no doubts at all that he wasn’t wanted in west London.
On the face of it a 0-0 draw against the champions is not a bad result with which to begin a new job, especially when the team you are leading had failed to keep a clean sheet in 10 previous matches and recently suffered a 3-0 defeat at Juventus in a miserable Champions League campaign.
But Benitez is no normal manager in these parts, having made himself such an enemy during his time with Liverpool; and Chelsea, as we all know, is no normal club.
So in astonishing scenes at Stamford Bridge the entire ground booed and jeered when Benitez was welcomed over the pa system; order was only restored by a minute’s applause in memory of former Chelsea manager Dave Sexton, who died yesterday.
If Sexton, who won Chelsea their first FA Cup and first European trophy in the 1970s, is one of the most popular managers in Blues history, then Benitez already has a claim to go down as one of the most unpopular.
Chelsea fans rose as a man after 16 minutes — 16 was Roberto Di Matteo’s shirt number when he was a player at Stamford Bridge — to sing his name and remind owner Roman Abramovich how strongly they disagreed with the Italian’s dismissal.
In fairness it is Abramovich’s decision to replace him with Benitez — a man who criticised and insulted Chelsea during his time at Anfield — that has infuriated supporters most; and you wonder how long this wound will take to heal.
Benitez fooled no-one when he claimed he didn’t hear the boos or understand the chants from the stands, which included “Rafa you are not welcome here”, or see the placards which included: “Rafa Out, Robbie In.” In fact, given the evidence, his hope that supporters will change their minds quickly appears optimistic.
“I can understand the rivalry in the past; but I’m sure the majority of fans will understand I am a professional. I want to do my job; I want to win for the club and I want to win for them.
“How many people do you need to write a banner? Just one — and maybe two holding the banner! If we start performing and winning games they will come on board.”
Chelsea came nowhere near winning against City, however. In a turgid match they managed only two shots on target — a tame free-kick from a centre-half and a speculative long-range shot from left-back Ashley Cole.
You’ll notice there was no mention of Fernando Torres there — and that’s because despite being given yet another vote of confidence by yet another Chelsea manager, the striker blasted his only chance over the bar and again looked painfully short of confidence.
The only thing that saved Chelsea from defeat was a combination of a lot of hard work — and City’s own misfiring forwards who failed to take advantage of a side that would surely have wobbled if put under enough pressure.
The bottom line is this was two points dropped in the title race because City had three good opportunities to open the scoring in the first half but failed to take any of them.
David Silva had the best from a Pablo Zabaleta cross after 20 minutes but somehow headed over the bar from close range. Then Zabaleta forced Cech into a good save before Sergio Aguero headed straight at the Chelsea goalkeeper from six metres.
The second half, if possible, was even less eventful, with only a long-range effort from Yaya Toure that was saved by Cech and those late efforts from Cole and Torres to consider. In fact the only excitement came when substitute Mario Balotelli was booked for diving after colliding with David Luiz.
Mancini was not in a good mood; far from it, as he complained: “I’m not satisfied. When you play well like we played you can’t lose points. When you have a chance you have to score you should be strong; you can’t be soft.”
But the Italian did have the last word when asked what Benitez should do to pacify those Chelsea fans. “Win, win and win — every game,” he said.
Judging by this performance, however, that is a very big ask indeed.
CHELSEA: Cech 7, Ivanovic 7, Azpilicueta 6, Luiz 5, Cole 7, Ramires 6, Mikel 6 (Romeu 79), Mata 6, Oscar 6, Hazard 6 (Moses 711; 6), Torres 5.
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 6, Zabaleta 7, Kompany 8, Nastasic 6, Kolarov 6, Yaya Toure 6, Barry 6, Silva 5, Milner 6, Dzeko 5 (Tevez 69; 6), Aguero 5 (Balotelli 85). Referee: Chris Foy.
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