RAFAEL Benitez was given a nightmare welcome from Chelsea fans yesterday as the European champions ground out a dour goalless draw with Manchester City.
Former Liverpool manager Benitez was treated like a pariah in his first match in charge of the Blues but did manage to mastermind their first clean sheet in 11 matches and deny City top spot in the Barclays Premier League.
Sergio Aguero wasted the best chance of a turgid game in driving rain, which the visitors had the better of in the first half but the home side the second. The draw moved unbeaten champions City to within a point of new leaders Manchester United, leaving Chelsea fourth.
Benitez has shored up the Blues’ defence during his four days in charge but he has his work cut out to get them playing the scintillating football demanded by the watching Roman Abramovich – and to get Fernando Torres scoring.
But that is nothing compared to winning over the fans on yesterday’s evidence. Chelsea’s stadium announcer was drowned out by jeers as he appealed for calm in order to pay tribute to former Chelsea manager Dave Sexton, whose death was confirmed on Saturday. There were also expletive-laden chants of “you’re not wanted here”, and signs reading “Benitez out” – coupled with songs and banners hailing the sacked Roberto Di Matteo.
Benitez insisted he did not pay attention to the crowd’s reaction to him, adding: “I am focused on the game, I don’t listen to the crowd. The main thing was the team on the pitch. I was not listening,b.”
City’s fans also showed no mercy and their players almost did the same inside four minutes when Eden Hazard gave the ball away and Ashley Cole had to get back to prevent Pablo Zabaleta gobbling up David Silva’s through pass.
As well as recalling Torres, Benitez’s other big selection call was starting both David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic at centre-half – something his predecessor never did. And there was a worrying mix-up when Luiz’s clearance careered behind off Ivanovic as City continued to enjoy the better of things.
Even more songs and applause for Di Matteo in the 16th minute – in recognition of his shirt number while a player at Chelsea – failed to inspire the home side. But City manager Roberto Mancini was left to rue his side being “too soft” in Chelsea’s penalty area.
“I think we play very well but are missing a goal,” Mancini said. “We had a lot of chances but were missing the last pass or shot. When you are near the box you should be very strong, if you are soft you cannot score. We dominated the first half, second half Chelsea did better, but we need to be strong, we were too soft.”