It’s fair to say Benitez didn’t have the easiest of times during his Chelsea tenure, it’s also fair to say some of that was down to himself. From the euphoria of last season in November of 2012, Chelsea football club as a whole took a crash landing. The hero of the previous year was gone sacked harshly after a poor month domestically and in Europe, then in came a man who the majority of the fan base already had a strong disliking for Rafael Benitez.
He was appointed on the 21st of november following the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo, he was given the title of interim first team manager. His appointment was met by outrage by many Chelsea fans, mainly down to the things he said about Chelsea during his time at Liverpool. In his first press conference he refuse to apologize for any of his remark claiming he was “defending his team” and that he would now do the same for Chelsea. Football wise his first month was rather uninspiring two home 0-0 draws vs Manchester city and Fulham did nothing to enhance his reputation amongst the Chelsea faithful.
December was a very congested month fixture wise with the squad having fixtures in four different competitions, including a fruitless trip to japan. December started off awfully for the new Chelsea boss as Chelsea slumped to a 3-1 away defeat to west ham, which gave fans even more reason the want the newly appointed boss out. He finally got his first win 6-1 at home vs FC Nordsjaelland in the UCL a competition we were pretty much already out of. He followed this up with a 3-1 victory away at Sunderland, straight after this match the team jetted out to japan where we took part in the Club world cup. Chelsea easily dispatched their semi final opponents Monterrey 3-1, but this victory was overshadowed by a poor showing in the final losing 1-0 to Corinthians a game Chelsea should be winning. On the squads return they were straight back in action facing old rivals Leeds in a league cup game after a poor first half which left the club trailing 1-0 Chelsea steamrolled the opposition and romped to a 5-1 win. Then into the busy christmas period which Chelsea fared well in winning all three of their fixtures including a league best 8-0 home win vs Aston Villa a tough fought away win against at the time in form Norwich city. The month came to a close with a very tricky away fixture vs Everton a game in which we struggled early but came back to earn a vital 3 points thanks to a Lampard brace. Think its fair to say november was a bit of a mixed bag.
While December could be described as a mixed bag January was littered with some truly shocking results. A 1-0 home defeat to bottom of the league QPR started of the month a game in which Benitez decided to field a very weakened side. It looked like that game could have just been a blip after an impressive 5-1 away FA cup win vs Southampton but another horrific performance at home this time in the league cup semi final 1st leg against Swansea saw Chelsea lose 2-0 and all but throw away any hopes of winning the cup. Then the rather unpredictable nature of his time at Chelsea continued with one of the stand results of the season beating a usually defensively strong Stoke side 4-0 away from home, after another brilliant away performance we struggled yet again at home throwing away a two goal lead vs Southampton to Draw 2-2. Chelsea then registered their first home win in 4 against top 4 rivals Arsenal with a 2-1 win coming after a great 1st half performance and then a not so great 2nd half showing. Then the 2nd leg of the league cup semi which was a rather dull affair until the whole Eden hazard ball boy gate the match finished 0-0. Chelsea ended the month the way they started it poorly, Chelsea were lucky to come away with a draw vs league one opposition (Brentford) in the FA cup, then Chelsea then again produced something that seemed to be becoming an unwanted trait throwing away leads this time away at Reading the match finished 2-2.
Another month that started off badly for Chelsea with a 3-2 defeat away at Newcastle another game in which Chelsea at one point had the lead. Chelsea then got back on the winning trail with a 4-1 home win vs Wigan and followed that up with a hard-fought away Europa league win 1-0 vs Sparta Prague. Then came the FA cup replay vs Brentford a game which Chelsea won 4-0. Chelsea then had the home leg of their Europa league clash with Sparta which looked to be heading to extra time before Eden Hazard scored a quite brilliant goal to save Chelsea’s blushes and squeeze them home on aggregate. Then an away trip to then league champions Manchester City a poor performance produced a 2-0 defeat and Benitez couldn’t seem to get a run going. A fairly routine cup trip to Middlesbrough which Chelsea won 2-0 didn’t seem like it would have any talking points until after the game Benitez snapped back at the Chelsea fans claiming that the “interim” title was a mistake and telling the Chelsea fans he wouldn’t be here next season. Many at the time believed this would be the end of his reign in charge, it wasn’t and somehow his rant worked in his favour.
The rant at the back-end of February worked in his favour fans still didn’t like him but they didn’t show their aggression as much and it seemed to have an effect on Chelsea’s home league form, the turnaround started with a 1-0 home win vs West Brom. This was then followed by one of the last wobbly patches in his reign with a 1-0 away Europa league defeat vs Steaua then a trip to Old Trafford in which a terrible first half saw Chelsea 2-0 but two inspired substitutions at the break saw Chelsea earn a draw and take the game to a replay. Chelsea then overturned an aggregate deficit to go through to the Europa league quarter final with a 3-1 home win vs Steaua. A good 2-0 home win vs West ham was followed by a disappointing 2-1 away defeat to Southampton a game in which key men were rested as Chelsea faced a fixture pile up of two games in 48 hours.
Giving players a rest worked as Chelsea beat Manchester united 1-0 to book a place in the FA cup Semi final. Chelsea were on Europa league duty again soon after as they attempted to progress in the competition they made a good start in that attempt with 3-1 home win vs Rubin Kazan and they followed that up with a hard-fought home league win vs Sunderland 2-1 the score. A disappointing week then followed a 3-2 away defeat to Rubin Kazan which was still enough to progress through to the Europa league semi final was capped off with 2-1 defeat at Wembley at the hands of Manchester City. Chelsea returned to league action with a usually tricky trip to local rivals Fulham, the game finished with a much-needed 3-0 away win. Chelsea then faced an away trip at Liverpool a last min Luis Suarez goal denied Chelsea all 3 points in a 2-2 draw. Chelsea then put one foot in the final of the Europa league with a 2-1 away win in switzerland. April ended with a comfortable 2-0 home win vs Swansea.
May would be Benitez’s last month in charge of Chelsea and it would be a fruitful month at that. It started with Chelsea confirming their place in the Europa league final in Amsterdam with a 3-1 home win against Basel. This was then followed up with a crucial away trip to Old Trafford, Chelsea beat Manchester United thanks to a late Juan Mata goal that secured a vital 3 points. Chelsea then had the chance to confirm a top 4 spot at home to Tottenham, it was a chance that went begging after a late Tottenham equaliser which meant Chelsea would have to fight another day. And fight is what they did in a tense away trip to Aston villa. Chelsea found themselves a man and a goal down at half time with no sign of it getting any better, that was until villa’s scorer Benteke also saw red and levelled the game up at 10 a side. Frank Lampard then stepped up with two crucial goals that not only cemented his place at the top of Chelsea all time scoring charts but also secured Champions league football next term. Then came Chelsea’s 68th game of the season the Europa league final against Benfica with Chelsea bidding to be the first team to hold both of european club footballs top prizes at once. The first half was all Benfica and somehow they managed not to score. Chelsea were better in the 2nd but not by much until Torres broke clear and put Chelsea ahead, Benfica equalised through a Cardozo penalty but Ivanovic headed home a Juan Mata corner in injury time to secure the Europa league, the thing that will probably be remembered above everything else during his reign at Chelsea. Chelsea secured 3rd spot on the final day with a 2-1 victory against Everton that would prove to be Benitez’s last competitive game in charge at Chelsea.
In conclusion the Europa league win and finishing 3rd will be what people remember most about his reign at Chelsea. But it wasn’t all so victorious his first few months were tainted by angry fans and poor performances, this changed later on in his stay after he bit back at the Chelsea fans. I’d give his stay at Chelsea a 6/10 could have done worse but ultimately should have done better.