Chelsea’s Rafael Benitez has been honored as Barclays Manager of the Month. And it’s about time!
Despite hordes of criticism heaped on him by Chelsea fans and a British media seemingly transfixed on ruffling the feathers of foreign bosses (see: Arsene Wenger, Roberto Mancini, Andre Villas-Boas, Manuel Pochetino and Paulo Di Canio), Benitez has provided one of the most stunning managerial performances of the season. And the league is finally taking notice making the interim boss the first Chelsea boss to be named Premier League Manager of the Month since Carlo Ancelotti in April 2011.
Benitez’ side enjoyed an unbeaten month in the league, with three wins from four games. During that stretch the Blues knocked off Swansea City, Sunderland and Fulham while drawing with Liverpool after conceding a last-gasp equalizer at Anfield.
Adding to the significance of the achievement is that Chelsea earned the domestic results while playing five other games during the month, including two matches against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League quarter-finals (where they won 5-4 on aggregate), a 1-0 win over Manchester United in the FA Cup, and a 2-1 first leg victory at FC Basel in the Europa League semi-finals.
Think about that – nine matches in 30 days. Crazy!
The league results have seen Chelsea rise to third in the table with four games remaining, putting them in prime position for a Champions League berth. Yet despite this achievement – as well as earning the club a spot in next month’s Europa League final against Benfica and being a key cog in the development of David Luiz and the resurgence of Petr Cech (who, at the moment is arguably the best goalkeeper in world football) – Benitez remains a very unpopular man.
To be fair, the Chelsea fans’ disdain for the Spaniard is at least somewhat understandable. His decision to pledge his love for Liverpool two weeks ago was nonsensical. Nevertheless, the feats he has managed to accomplish at Chelsea during his five month stint at the club are astounding. And it’s great to see the Premier League is finally taking notice.
Here’s to hoping that come the final day of the season, Blues supporters will as well.
Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley
to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.
Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.
[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]
Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check it out:
Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.
Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.
[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]
Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?
- Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
- FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
- LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack. Upset chance: Long shot.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.
Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.
Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.
Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.
Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.
Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.
Men In Blazers are back with their latest podcast, and the boys are hitting club soccer here and abroad as well as Bruce Arena’s men in the red, white, and blue.
Rog and Davo break down transfer window activity, rumored and real; get a heat check on the USMNT heading into the Gold Cup; and recap the (Ray) Hudson River Derby.
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