Match to catch
Rafa is back. Fact! So Roman Abramovich has turned to goatee-clad former Valencia, Liverpool and Inter Milan boss Benitez to turn round Chelsea’s “ailing fortunes” after Roberto di Matteo committed the heinous crime of not winning every single match the Blues play. But considering he didn’t have a striker worthy of the name all season — which surely wasn’t even his fault as Chelsea’s transfer market dealings tend to be kept well away from the humble coach — third in the Premier League, just four points off top, isn’t too shabby.
Okay Chelsea’s Champions League form under Di Matteo had suffered after last season’s miracle success and the Italian seemed to bow to pressure for Tuesday’s match away to Juventus, dropping Fernando Torres and unwisely overhauling his previously successful tactics for such an important game. But to dispense with his services is obviously crazy.
The sacrificial lamb, Di Matteo, has actually come out of this sorry saga rather well — with pay for the next 18 months in his pocket and his reputation vastly enhanced. Expect important clubs from all over Europe to court him next time they have a vacancy.
So instead the Premier League welcomes back Benitez, famous for giving Sir Alex Ferguson both barrels in a press conference rant in 2009. Unfortunately for him, his “fact”-filled speech was more comedy than cutting and back-fired pretty spectacularly, tarnishing his reputation in the UK somewhat. Chelsea fans in particular have been known to be pretty hostile to the Spaniard, so it will be interesting to see what reaction he gets at Stamford Bridge during Sunday’s game against leaders Manchester City.
On the pitch, both teams are coming into this game on the back of chastening experiences in the Champions League and will be in dire need of a morale-boosting win. Prediction: The points to be shared.
Keep an eye on
Brendan Rodgers, the third manager Liverpool have brought in since Benitez left in 2010, returns to Swansea on Sunday for the first time since leaving the South Wales club to move to Anfield in the summer. The intensity has been nicely stoked up by Swansea defender Ashley Williams’ comments about Luis Suarez in his new book, saying the Uruguayan was “streets ahead of any player I’ve truly disliked since I’ve been in the Premier League”. Prediction: Rodgers to take the points back to Merseyside.
For the purists
Wigan vs Reading on Saturday does little to get the pulse racing. Prediction: Wigan.
Norwich City have quietly racked up three wins and two draws in their last five games, conceding just one goal and beating Arsenal and Manchester United along the way. Saturday sees them make the tricky trip to Everton. Prediction: Home win.
Need a win
The wait goes on for QPR. They keep on losing — even at home to Southampton last weekend — but still Mark Hughes keeps his job. Manchester United away is this week’s assignment and you have to fear for them. Prediction: United.
Last week’s predictions
Unfortunately as there’s been so much to consider with all the developments at Chelsea this week and limited space being very much a factor in this column, there really just isn’t the room to analyse, dissect, investigate, scrutinise or pore over the rightness or wrongness of last week’s predictions. *Cough* One out of five *cough, cough*.