By David Lynch
Regardless of how backhanded they might be, Rafael Benitez's European record rightly attracts plenty of compliments.
Even detractors are forced to concede that the Spaniard is a master at setting his teams up in continental competition, even if they feel it necessary to tag on the caveat that his domestic record is modest in comparison. That said, there is truth in such weasel-worded appraisal; his expertise in that arena in particular is arguably what has earned him his last three managerial roles.
The Benitez-led Valencia team, dubbed 'the Crushing Machine' by the 52-year-old's biographer, Paco Lloret, eviscerated Gerard Houllier's Liverpool in a manner which left a lasting impression on the Anfield hierarchy. So much so that when Los Che lifted the Uefa Cup the season after, it did not take long for the Reds to move for the Madrid-born boss upon the Frenchman's departure.
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Another club Benitez would later join, Inter, also found themselves on the end of one of his trademark European maulings in the 2007-08 season. Such results cemented his reputation as one of the keenest tactical innovators in the game, even if it would all eventually end in tears at San Siro.
In fact, even upon his sacking by the ruthless Massimo Moratti, the Italians had qualified from the group stages of the Champions League. Benitez was denied the opportunity to take them further, something which his record argues could well have saved his skin had he been given the chance.
One would hope that this time, as an interim manager, Benitez will at least get the chance to take Chelsea to the end of the season as Abramovich looks to save face by avoiding a damaging second sacking in a season. And, against Nordsjaelland on Wednesday night, he has an opportunity to go some way to generating goodwill which has so far evaded him.
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But, as in all cup competitions, Benitez will need luck to be on his side. Poor results under Roberto Di Matteo earlier this season mean that the west London club need Shakhtar to beat Juventus in order to stand any chance of progressing. Conspiracy theories suggesting that the pair will agree to play out a draw are rife but Chelsea can hardly complain given that they are in a position of their own making.
Regardless, Benitez must now hope that he did not use up all his good fortune in 2005's victory against all odds with Liverpool. That he will provide tactical acumen is a given.
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