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HindustanTimes Fri,19 Sep 2014

Football

Knockouts a distant dream for Chelsea
Reuters
London, December 05, 2012
First Published: 00:28 IST(5/12/2012)
Last Updated: 00:29 IST(5/12/2012)

Rafael Benitez made scuppering Chelsea's Champions League hopes a pastime when he was at Liverpool but on Wednesday he has the chance to preside over an unlikely rescue act at Stamford Bridge.

His chances of steering the faltering European champions into the knockout stages of the competition are slim as they not only have to beat Denmark's Nordsjaelland but also need Juventus to slip up against group leaders Shakhtar Donetsk.

The Ukrainian side have already qualified while the Italians, two points ahead of Chelsea, know a draw will suffice to see them through to the last 16.

Such is Benitez's low standing with Chelsea fans after he was parachuted in last month to replace the popular Roberto Di Matteo, that achieving the feat of hauling the club away from the European rocks may do little to appease Chelsea's bloodthirsty faithful.

Dry spell
Having booed the Spaniard before his first game in charge, his stock fell to a new low after Saturday's 3-1 defeat by West Ham United which left him without a victory in his opening three matches at the club.

"We have to improve on the pitch in order for the fans to be happy," Benitez told the club website. "We have experienced players who have played at this level for a long time. You can see how they train and it's clear they want to improve."

Benitez's excellent record in the Champions League could have acted as a comfort to Chelsea fans had his success not arrived principally at their expense. At Liverpool he reached two Champions League finals, winning one, with a squad of players that was modest in comparison to Chelsea's at the time, a fact that made two semi-final triumphs over the west Londoners a bitter pill to swallow for the fans he is now trying to win over.

Should results go against Chelsea they will become the first holders of the trophy to exit the competition in the group stage. Benitez is by title only Chelsea's interim manager, but British media has already started to speculate that his spell in charge will be shorter-lived than anyone could have thought.


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