By Greg Stobart
Rafael Benitez refused to react to the prodding and prompting from journalists when asked how he felt about more calls for his head from the Chelsea supporters during the 3-1 defeat at West Ham on Saturday.
“We must concentrate on improving the team and trying to win games,” insisted the Blues’ interim manager after watching the European champions crumble at Upton Park. He may have escaped the hostility of Stamford Bridge for the afternoon, but the negativity from the away end was unavoidable as Chelsea fans told Benitez he will be getting sacked tomorrow morning.
He won’t, of course, but don’t bet against the Benitez era being the shortest of all Roman Abramovich’s appointments since his takeover of the club in 2003. It feels like the wrong man, at the wrong time, and the Russian billionaire is hardly known for his patience.
In fact, few would be gobsmacked if Benitez was no longer Chelsea manager - sorry, ‘interim’ manager - by the start of the New Year when, presumably, the Spaniard hopes to make his mark in the transfer market by bringing the likes of Radamel Falcao to the club.
In the meantime, poor old Benitez has to make do with Fernando Torres as his only genuine striker. The £50 million man is a shadow of the player with whom Benitez worked so successfully at Liverpool and, after almost two years of consistently terrible displays at Chelsea, there is no sense that he could ever rediscover his best form. He has now gone more than 12 hours without a goal - and it doesn’t look like he will find one any time soon.
Torres’ plight was summed up in the first-half when he shot dreadfully off-target from inside the box after a quick Chelsea break through Ramires. The more West Ham turned the tide of the game, the more Torres slipped into anonymity.
Benitez claimed earlier this week that Chelsea can still win the Premier League title, but the Blues will find themselves 10 points behind leaders Manchester United if Sir Alex Ferguson’s side beat Reading later today. They have no chance of winning the league, their chances well and truly blown by Abramovich’s appointment of Benitez and his one-eyed obsession with Torres.
Benitez is facing a huge mountain with a bag of rocks on his back. He has already spoken of his fear of fatigue - with the squad flying to Japan next week for the FIFA Club World Cup - and his players looked leggy and tired in the second half here.
Defeat would have been even more difficult to take for Benitez given his long-standing feud with Sam Allardyce, whose half-time substitutions changed the complexion of the game after Chelsea had dominated the opening period and led at the break through Juan Mata’s strike.
Benitez stood in his technical area helpless as West Ham roared back into the game, turning the scoreline around through goals from Carlton Cole, Mohamed Diame and Modibo Maiga.
Forget about the title; at this rate, Chelsea face a serious battle to finish in the top four this season. The squad seems riddled with problems, but chief among them is what on earth to do with Fernando Torres.
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