There has been a poisonous atmosphere at Stamford Bridge since Rafael Benitez took the reins in November, but the Spaniard’s comments this week have ratcheted up the lack of unity around the club even further.
Having been dogmatically diplomatic in his interaction with the media despite regular torrents of abuse being directed his way by a section of Chelsea fans, Benitez finally expressed his desire for the support to come together for the good of the team.
Benitez also uttered his belief that the interim title designated to him had played a part in struggling tenure and predictably his comments have caused a media furor, although he has avoided the instant dismissal from his role that many anticipated.
Ahead of Saturday’s Premier League match with West Brom, Benitez sought to clarify the purpose of his remarks.
“If you analyze carefully what I said, what I was trying to explain was that we have 11 games left to play, that means 33 points, so if we stick together behind the team it will be easier for us to get points,” he explained, according to Chelsea’s official website.
“What I'm trying to say is that if we all stay behind the team together, the atmosphere will be much better, the players will perform much better and we can win more points. Everybody will be happier at the end of the season.”
Benitez is unlikely to want to be reminded that the previous two men in the Chelsea hot seat—Roberto di Matteo and Andre Villas-Boas—were both shown the door following defeats to West Brom. To add even further to the storyline, the man in the visitors’ dugout at Stamford Bridge on Saturday will be former Chelsea defender and assistant coach Steve Clarke.
The Scot has done a fine job in his first season in charge at the Hawthorns. The side reached the magical 40 point barrier with 11 games to spare after a 2-1 win over Sunderland and they can now firmly begin looking upward.
Clarke will be unable to call upon in-form striker Romelu Lukaku, who is ineligible to play against his parent club.
Chelsea are likely to have Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta back after the pair missed the FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough in midweek.
D: Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole
M: Ramires, Lampard
Mata, Oscar, Hazard
West Brom (probable)
D: Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell
M: Mulumbu, Yacob
Dorrans, Morrison, Brunt
Prediction: Almost anything could happen at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Many people expected Benitez to be fired immediately following his comments and if Chelsea fall to defeat against West Brom then it may prove to be merely a stay of execution by owner Roman Abramovich.
It is hard to imagine the Chelsea crowd not being even more vocal in their dislike for Benitez and that atmosphere cannot possibly help the players. West Brom have regained some form in recording two-straight victories and they could well make that three at Chelsea.
Chelsea 0-1 West Brom
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a delayed online stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.