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All aboard the Rafamobile! Benítez suddenly coach of Chelsea (for now)

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Hours after they parted ways with the man who won them their first European title, Chelsea’s moved on to a man whose reputation hinges on his UEFA Champions League success.

With the appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez today, Chelsea’s replaced Roberto Di Matteo, if only in the short-term. Given the job of seeing out the 2012-13 season, Benítez appears to be doing little more than keeping a seat warm for Roman Abramovich’s true ambition – Pep Guardiola.

Here’s the club’s statement:

Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season.

The owner and the Board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives.

The 52-year-old Spaniard is due to meet the players at the training ground in Cobham tomorrow

Those objectives are unlikely to include UEFA Champions League, where Chelsea’s fate now depends on Juventus losing in Donetsk on matchday six. Of course, that could happen, and if it does (while Chelsea beats Nordsjaelland), the Blues will have a man whose reputation has come to rest on his Champions League accumen. If not, there’s always the league, two domestic cups, and Europa League.

It’s a good appointment for everybody except Di Matteo, who likely would be in a job today had Benítez been either unavailable or unwilling to subjugate himself to a temporary position.

Such has been Benítez’s fall. After guiding Liverpool to second in the Premier League in 2008-09, he allowed Liverpool to slip to seventh place, the failure to make Champions League beginning a slide from which the club’s still recovering. Benítez’s subsequent inability to replace José Mourinho at Inter Milan meant the former Valencia boss’s best route to a marquee job was a situation like Chelsea’s.

Let’s also not forget the nature Benítez’s failings in Milan, because they’re particularly relevant to his potential success at Chelsea. We should take managerial hubris and put it aside, because Benítez has likely been dissuaded of notions that had him shrug off his part in Liverpool’s downfall. The state he left Internazionale in was bad enough.

There he inherited an old team coming off a Mourinho-led European title and not only changed how they played but ran his veterans into the ground. There’s more than one similarity to be drawn between that Inter side and Benítez’s new charge. By the time the Nerazzurri took off for 2011’s Club World Cup, they were depleted, mutinous, and out of chances for their ill-fitting coach.

While Benítez is not directly replacing Mourinho in London, he will again be faced with expectations raised by the Special One. Even after Di Matteo delivered the one prize José couldn’t claim, standards at Stamford Bridge reflect the demands of a man five years gone. If Benítez is going to retain his job, he has to claim the league, FA Cup, or Europa League. And as Di Matteo’s travails show, even that might not be enough.

Because if Benítez is to win silverware during his Stamford Bridge residency, it will likely be through the same pragmatism that characterized his most successful times at Anfield. It’s not ugly, it’s not anti-football, but it’s also not Barcelona. And for whatever misguided reasons Roman Abramovich is using to fuel his decisions, Chelsea’s owner won’t be happy until his team is playing the brand of soccer he’s wanted since the day he bought the club.

The lack of style undid Mourinho. It undid Di Matteo. And it will likely undo Benítez, regardless of results.

The one thing that could keep Benítez in London past May 2013 is if Guardiola goes elsewhere, because for everything we’ve heard about Abramovich’s lust of Pep, we’ve heard little of reciprocation from the former Barça boss. We know he prefers England. We know he prefers London. We also know that he’s unlikely to make any decisions until early-2013, if not later.

All of which makes the treatment of Di Matteo more curious. Replacing a club icon with a former rival is precarious enough (though Chelsea fans will likely recognize Benítez’s qualities). To do so when it’s unclear if lack of a striker or thin central midfield are the real problems hints Di Matteo was never going to be embraced by Abramovich. It didn’t matter that Di Matteo’s Champions League troubles came in a group with two of the top eight teams in Europe. That he lost provided Arbamovich an out from a man he never truly wanted, even if it made more sense to keep him until the Guardiola question was resolved.

With no answers in sight, Chelsea fans are best served concentrating on the present. They aren’t the best team in England, but they’re capable of competing for the title. Perhaps Benítez will bring something new out of them. Cup competitions have taken on a special meaning for the Blues. They’re still alive in both. And even if Europe only offers Europa League, the team has enough young, exciting talents to make that congestion-inducing tournament worth a Chelsea-supporters’ time. There’s still plenty of light in this 2012-13 tunnel.

Roberto Di Matteo won’t be driving them through it, but it’s time to move on. All aboard the Rafamobile.

Transfer news: Renato to Man United; $50 million Batshuayi to West Ham

SEIXAL, PORTUGAL - MARCH 17:  Benfica«s midfielder Renato Sanches during the UEFA Youth League Quarter Final between SL Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk at Caixa Futebol Campus on March 17, 2015 in Seixal, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images for UEFA)
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Benfica teenager Renato Sanches could cost Manchester United $60 million this summer and the Portuguese youngster is already preparing for his move.

[ MORE: Mourinho to wait? ]

According to Record in Portugal, Sanches is “prepared and excited” about a move to United and knows a deal is being discussed about a move this summer. It is believed the deal could cost in excess of $80 million when all is said and done.

The 18-year-old box-to-box midfielder is one of the hottest properties on the planet and despite Louis Van Gaal‘s struggling to get into the UEFA Champions League for next season, it still won’t stop them splashing some serious cash on Sanches. Plus, it worked out pretty well for United the last time they signed a teenager from Portugal… (ahem, Cristiano Ronaldo).


Another big money move, and a surprising one at that, could see West Ham United move for Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi.

The Guardian believes that the Hammers have put in a bid in excess of $50 million for the Marseille striker who has scored 16 Ligue 1 goals this season. He is 22-years-old and it is believed Slaven Bilic wanted to sign him in January but was told he wouldn’t be available until the summer.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

With the 2016 European Championships coming up, Batshuayi should be included in Marc Wilmots’ 23-man Belgian squad but will face competition to get into the team from the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke. Like the aforementioned trio, Batshuayi is a powerful striker who can hold the ball up but is also able to get in-behind opposition defenses.

West Ham have enjoyed great success in plucking Dimitri Payet from Marseille for $15 million last summer but they will likely face competition from Juventus, Roma, Borussia Dortmund and others for the Belgian’s signature.


The Daily Mail claims that new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has earmarked Gonzalo Higuain as his main transfer target this summer.

Higuain, 28, has been in fine form for Napoli this season, scoring 34 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions. Per the report, the Argentine striker is said to be concerned of playing second fiddle to Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge. However, if Costa is moved on with lucrative offers from China reportedly lined up, then Higuain could provide the goals to kick off Conte’s reign in west London.

The former Real Madrid striker has scored 223 goals in 451 career games and has 25 goals in 52 games for Argentina. It is clear Conte wants to stamp his authority on this team and with Costa scoring just 11 times this season, getting in a goal-machine will be the biggest target for the new Chelsea boss. Higuain will cost Chelsea over $60 million.

Riyad Mahrez has “50/50” chance of staying at Leicester

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Riyad Mahrez‘s chances of staying at Leicester City have been rated at 50/50.

The Algerian winger has been crowned the PFA Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season as his 17 goals and 11 assists inspired Leicester to win the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

However, the man who the Foxes signed from Le Havre in January 2014 for just $800,000 is now being linked with a $45 million move to the likes of Barcelona, Tottenham, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain among several other elite European teams.

Despite previously stating that he was happy at Leicester, his agent (Kamel Bengougam) is singing from a different hymn sheet as he spoke to the Guardian.

“Yes of course there is a possibility. When you have been playing the way Riyad has this season it is bound to attract attention. He is very happy with Leicester and of course it has been a fantastic season. They will play in the Champions League next year as well so he would be happy to stay.

“But at his age if the opportunity comes to play for a big team then we would have to think about it. I’d say it’s 50/50 at the moment whether he stays or goes.”

His agent also added that they have interest “from the UK and overseas” and would “see what develops over the next few weeks” as the season comes to a close.

Mahrez is 25 years old and is about to enter the prime of his career following years of battling his way through the French lower leagues and has burst onto the scene this season as an integral part of Leicester’s success.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait?

The Algerian international winger is bound to have suitors and his ability to bamboozle defenses and score stunning goals with his supreme composure has reportedly seen Barcelona scout him constantly over the past few months.

Leicester doesn’t need to sell players and are financially set. However, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has already said that if players want to go, they can leave but has warned them they could be bit-parts at bigger clubs.

They could well be the case with Mahrez but in reality, is he ever going to have a season like this again? Should he and his agent cash in while they can?

Fellaini, Huth handed three-game suspensions

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Robert Huth and Marouane Fellaini will not play in the Premier League again this season.

The duo were both charged with violent conduct after they clashed in the first half of Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City last Sunday.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Fellaini will miss United’s remaining three PL games of the season but will be available for the FA Cup final versus Crystal Palace at Wembley on May 21, while Huth will sit out Leicester’s two remaining games (he will, however, be able to participate in their title celebrations against Everton on Saturday and pick up his medal) and will also miss the opening game of next season.

The incident in question saw German defender Huth pull on Fellaini’s hair and the Belgian midfielder reacted by striking the Leicester defender in the face. Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United’s manager, described the incident as one of “sex masochist” in a hilarious video you can see above.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ] 

Below is the statement in full from the FA on their ruling:

Marouane Fellaini and Robert Huth will both serve a three-match suspension with immediate effect after being charged with violent conduct which was not seen by the match officials but caught on video.

The Manchester United midfielder and Leicester City defender were involved in a 21st-minute incident during their fixture on Sunday 1 May 2016.

Both players accepted the charge, however, Huth contested that the standard penalty of a three-match suspension would be ‘clearly excessive’.

This claim, however, was rejected following an Independent Regulatory Commission hearing today [Thursday 5 May 2016].

FA in “advanced talks” with Tottenham over move to Wembley

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 04:  An aerial view of Wembley Stadium on November 4, 2009 in London, England. The UK's capital city is home to an population of over 7.5 million people, it has the world's oldest and most extensive underground train network and it's airspace is the busiest of any city.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur look set to play at Wembley Stadium while White Hart Lane is reconstructed.

Spurs will be without a stadium for the entire 2017-18 campaign as their current home will be demolished and a new $600 million stadium holding 61,000 will be built in its place.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ]

The Chairman of the English FA, Greg Dyke, believes a deal with Spurs will get over the line soon and he also claims they Spurs are also in talks about playing their UEFA Champions League games at the 90,000 capacity stadium next season.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

Speaking on Sky Sports News in the UK on Thursday, Dyke revealed that talks with Tottenham were at an advanced stage.

“We’re in discussions with Tottenham that they should come in for a full season when they’re building their new stadium, and we are a long way down the path on reaching agreement,” Dyke confirmed.

“I think there are some discussions about whether they will play Champions League games at Wembley next year but I don’t know much about that. But on the full season (2017-18), I think we’re quite close to a deal.”

So, as expected, Spurs will likely pay the FA a fee to rent the stadium — the FA then plan to reinvest it at the grassroots level — and play temporarily away from White Hart Lane.

That’s pretty standard and the only issue will be if Chelsea’s plans to renovate Stamford Bridge go ahead (the Blues are also looking to temporarily relocate to Wembley) but they’ll likely use it for three seasons and may not need to until 2018-19, such is the magnitude of their stadium project.

However, the real juicy bit of news here was that Spurs is looking to host Champions League games at Wembley next season.

With Mauricio Pochettino‘s men missing out on the title to Leicester, they are still guaranteed a spot in next seasons UCL and will return to play among Europe’s elite after a five-year absence.

I’m sure Spurs will get close to a sellout of 90,000 at Wembley for their UCL games and make a lot of money from it but does something about that seem a little strange? Having a season of UCL action in the old White Hart Lane stadium seems fitting and the cozy surroundings and electric atmosphere (it’s one of the loudest and best venues to watch a game in the PL) would certainly intimidate some of Europe’s big boys who may roll into town.

Yet, the fact that the Lane will only hold just over 32,000 fans next season, due to some seats being taken out for construction work, means that almost trebling crowds for big European nights makes sense. It will also give both the FA and Tottenham a chance to test out how things will work for the 2017-18 season.