Rafael Benitez steps back into the Lion’s den of Stamford Bridge on Wednesday as he leads out his new side for the second time. While the Spaniard must have realized that he wasn’t the most popular choice as manager due to hostilities between the Blues and his previous club Liverpool several season ago, he must have still be taken aback by the level of hostility he received from Chelsea fans.
On the pitch itself, there was already evidence in a goalless draw with Manchester City that Benitez’s impact was being felt. At his various clubs, the Spaniard has always put an initial emphasis on organizing the team to be strong without the ball and in truth there are few better coaches in the world game at doing so.
That was shown against the current Premier League champions as Chelsea looked far better defensively than the overly open style they often displayed under Roberto Di Matteo.
Against west London rivals Fulham that will not be enough and Benitez will also need to demonstrate that he can find the right combination between the array of diminutive and silky-skilled attacking midfielders at his disposal.
Benitez will still have to do without the experienced duo of John Terry and Frank Lampard along with forward Daniel Sturridge.
Their opponents on Wednesday, Fulham will be desperate for a result to reignite their season. After a promising start to the campaign, the Cottagers have lost two on the bounce and gone five matches without a victory.
Martin Jol goes into the game still without several first-team players. Key defender Brede Hangeland serves the second game of a three-match ban, while Bryan Ruiz, Alexander Kacaniklic, Kieran Richardson and Simon Davies all remain on the injured list.
D: Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole
M: Mikel, Ramires
Mata, Oscar, Hazard
D: Riether, Senderos, Hughes, Riise
M: Duff, Baird, Sidwell, Rodallega
F: Berbatov, Petric
Prediction: Without the big introduction as new manager to incite fans, it is hard to imagine Benitez receiving quite such a cauldron of abuse on Wednesday, something which would help the whole atmosphere within Stamford Bridge. Benitez’s impact on the side defensively is likely to continue to be felt, while their quality going forward should be enough to see off Fulham.
Chelsea 2-0 Fulham
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match kicks-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a delayed online stream available later in the day on Fox Soccer 2Go.