Rafa Benitez’s bow as Chelsea boss ended in a 0-0 draw with Manchester City, as the ex-Liverpool manager copped the wrath of Blues fans.
Benitez faced genuine and sustained opposition from large sections of the home support as they made clear their anger at the former Reds manager succeeding the popular Roberto Di Matteo.
Moreover, the Spaniard was unable to provide instant alchemy to the team, as Chelsea mustered only a single shot on target in a match dominated by defence in the tepid stalemate.
In front of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, perhaps Benitez’s only achievement was that new-look centre-back pair David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic had managed to keep the Premier League champions so quiet.
The draw leaves Chelsea five points adrift of leaders Manchester United, while City finish the weekend in second place after failing to make their domination of the play and scoring opportunities count.
However, it was the extraordinary reception received by Benitez that was the main talking point on an afternoon when the drama in the stands far exceeded that on the pitch.
It took the pitchside announcer passing on the news of former Chelsea manager Dave Sexton’s death at the age of 82 to end the thunderous jeers and chants of ‘There’s only one Di Matteo’ that had greeted Benitez’s introduction as the new manager.
All the while, Abramovich – the author of the dugout dramas – sat watching impassively at the back of a stand.
Benitez immediately made his impact at the selection table, as Fernando Torres was restored to the starting line-up in place of Gary Cahill, who dropped to the bench. For Manchester City, Gareth Barry and James Milner replaced Samir Nasri and Maicon.
In the early exchanges, Chelsea’s key attackers lacked accuracy with their passing and were easily smothered by the visitors.
Roberto Mancini, whose name was sung loudly by City’s travelling support at regular intervals, would have been satisfied that his team looked far more organised than of late, while also counter-attacking with some purpose.
But the champions of England failed to make their dominance count against the champions of Europe in a flat opening period, with Sergio Aguero and David Silva wasting excellent headed opportunities to put their team ahead.
Both defences continued to be on top in the second half, with Chelsea not creating a genuine opportunity until 60 minutes had been played.
Torres, once the most feared marksman in Europe under Benitez at Liverpool, had the chance to resurrect one of the most profitable striker-manager alliances of recent times in emphatic fashion.
But, in keeping with his Chelsea career, the number nine fired a half-volley narrowly over the bar after the ball had sat up well for him inside the box following good interplay from Eden Hazard and Juan Mata.
In terms of entertainment, that was about it.
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