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A strange fit for Napoli, Rafa Benítez’s Chelsea tenure finally comes to an end

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Most Chelsea fans saw a bit of good news hit their Twitter timelines on Monday, with a picture being send around social media marking the end of the club’s Rafa Benítez era. Though some fans eventually warmed to Benítez, the vast majority were either conflicted or antagonistic, so although they knew their time of conflict would soon end, proof of its passing would have been met with relief.

At the same time, Napoli fans were forced to embrace a reality of an uncertain future, their club having officially welcomed the controversial Spaniard as their new head coach. For a team who finished second in Italy and have reason to hope they team can push on, today’s must have been sobering news.

Word of Benítez’s move to Naples had been circulating for some time, but until Benítez finished his responsibilities with Chelsea’s brief U.S. tour, Napoli supporters could try to convince themselves the deal would fall through. However, after this weekend’s match at Yankee Stadium, all that was left was to dot i’s and cross t’s. Benítez was destined to replace Walter Mazzarri.

And with this image of Benítez shaking hands with Napoli President Aurelio Di Laurentiis, the tenuous transition finally begins.


I’ve made my newfound ambivalence toward Benítez known, but for new visitors who don’t want to go back through the PST archive, I’ll reiterate: I feel as if Benítez has earned himself another chance, one that shouldn’t require him resorting to a ‘take what I can get’ attitude. I’m not sure I felt the same before he was fortunate to find a role in West London.

He underperformed at Chelsea, Inter Milan, and in his last days at Liverpool, but over the last three months at Stamford Bridge, he showed the qualities of a man capable of forging a stable united. Were I at Málaga and looking to replace Manuel Pellegrini, I’d strongly consider him. He might work well at a place like Schalke, when he could take a talented team and establish a foundation that would address inconsistencies. Among club who don’t have obvious job openings, places like Marseille, Sevilla, Lazio, Hamburg would also be a fit for a boss with Benítez’s qualities, and if it wasn’t for the circumstances of Benítez’s past, clubs like Everton and Valencia would also fit nicely onto that list.

Napoli, however, is a very peculiar case. The departing manager, Walter Mazzarri, played almost exclusively three at the back, employing an attractive style that leveraged the abilities of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik, Goran Pendev and Blerim Dzemaili to pick opponents apart, often in transition. In contrast to Benítez’s style, Napoli’s is not one you would readily call controlling or robust. Their’s was a more open game.

With Mazzarri having moved to Inter, Napoli’s style is going to change. And if the Neopolitans lose Cavani, they’ll have to reload, a process in which Benítez is likely to have great say. As opposed to a Chelsea job that was about ostensibly about correcting course, Benítez will have to chart a new one.

At one time in his career, he was capable of doing that. His accomplishments at Valencia and Liverpool speak to it, but having painted more confounding pictures at Stamford Bridge, the San Siro, and his last year at Anfield, Benítez’s appointment at Napoli becomes a litmus test. If you feel the man is capable to recapturing the magic, there’s little reason not to hire him. If you believe the more recent evidence, he seems an bad fit for the job.

The only other time Benítez faced the tactical test of the Italian league, he drove a European champion to mid-table before walking away from Inter Milan. De Laurentiis has elected to cast this as an aberration, but for a team returning to Champions League, you can’t help but ask if they couldn’t have found a better fit.

How can Chelsea qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

HAIFA, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 24: Willian of Chelsea celebrates scoring his teams second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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With one match left in UEFA Champions League group play, Chelsea control their own destiny.

After beating Maccabi Tel-Aviv 4-0, the Blues sit tied with FC Porto on ten points at the top of Group G.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

However, with Dynamo Kyiv earning a big win over Porto on Tuesday, Chelsea must wait until the final matchday to qualify for the knockout round, as there is a possibility of a three-way tie for the top spot in Group G.

With Chelsea hosting Porto on December 9, here are the scenarios for Jose Mourinho’s men to assure advancement.

  • A win over Porto will clinch Chelsea the top spot and a place in the last 16.
  • A draw against Porto will see Chelsea advance.
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo win: Chelsea win group, Dynamo finish second
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo draw or loss: Porto win group, Chelsea finish second
  • A loss to Porto and a Dynamo Kyiv draw/loss to Maccabi Tel-Aviv will see Chelsea finish second in the group and advance to the last 16.
  • The Blues have secured at least a berth in the Europa League, regardless of the result in their final match.

Simply put, get a point at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea advance.

Mourinho says bad pitch in Tel-Aviv injured Ramires, John Terry

during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.
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Chelsea left Israel with a 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv, but also left with some injuries.

Ramires was hurt in training the day before the match, and John Terry was forced off in the second half.

[ RECAP: Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea ]

Jose Mourinho talked about the condition of the pitch before the match, and was even more upset after it as two of his players are now hurt, although the extent of those injuries is not yet known.

Terry was stretchered off and looked to be in quite a bit of pain after going up for a challenge, as his ankle twisted awkwardly when he landed.

The pitch in Tel-Aviv was in poor condition, as large chunks of turf could be seen flying up when players planted or went in for tackles. Mourinho himself was seen on the field trying to fill in divots before the match.

While Mourinho said he didn’t want to jump to conclusions before getting test results, he believes John Terry will be unable to play this weekend, a huge Premier League match away at Tottenham.

[ MORE: Arsenal ready to “play for our lives” in match vs. Olympiacos ]

Other than his issues with the conditions, Mourinho was relatively happy with the team’s play and believes they are getting some confidence back, now with consecutive wins after beating Norwich City over the weekend.

UCL roundup: Barcelona, Bayern clinch spots in the knockout round

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 24:  Gerard Pique (C) of Barcelona celebrates scoring his teams fourth goal with Luis Suarez (L) and Lionel Messi during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between FC Barcelona and AS Roma at Camp Nou on November 24, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Two more teams booked spots in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, as perennial powerhouses Barcelona and Bayern Munich earned big wins to advance out of their groups.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Barcelona 6-1 Roma

Barcelona fared well without Lionel Messi, and now with him back in the lineup, they look unbeatable. The Catalans advance to the last 16 with an absolutely dominating performance, thrashing Roma 6-1. Messi and Luis Suarez scored two goals each, with Gerard Pique and Adriano adding the others. Edin Dzeko would ruin the clean sheet with a goal for Roma in stoppage time, but it was another Barcelona masterclass at Camp Nou.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Olympiacos

Continuing with the trend of dominating performances, Bayern Munich eased past Olympiacos 4-0 to clinch a spot in the knockout round. Bayern scored early and often, going three goals ahead in the opening 20 minutes through Douglas Costa, Robert Lewanowski and Thomas Muller. Despite going down to ten-men in the second half after Holger Badstuber was sent off, Bayern continued to dominate as the young Kingsley Coman scored the fourth and final goal.

Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Arsenal is clinging on to hope of advancing out of Group F with a 3-0 win at home over Dinamo Zagreb. Mesut Ozil opened the scoring and Alexis Sanchez added two more as the Gunners now head into the final matchday in need of a win over Olympiacos.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea

Chelsea got a big win away from home in Group G, beating a ten-man Maccabi side 4-0. Willian scored another free kick for the Blues, as the Brazilian has now scored from a set piece in four of Chelsea’s five Champions League matches. Tied with Porto atop the group, Chelsea needs just one point from their final match to advance.

Elsewhere in the Champions League

Group E

BATE Borisov 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Group G

Porto 0-2 Dynamo Kyiv

Group H

Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 Valencia (Zenit clinch top spot)
Lyon 1-2 Gent (Lyon eliminated)

Arsenal ready to “play for our lives” vs. Olympiakos to remain in UCL

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Following their 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday, Arsenal know what they must do in two weeks time at Olympiakos.

Win by two goals or more — or by a margin of one if they score three goals — and they’re in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the 16th straight.

[ MORE: How can Arsenal make last 16? ]

Anything less means Arsene Wenger‘s side will crash out of the UCL at the group stage and will be competing in the last 32 of the Europa League when European play restarts in 2016.

Hope remains. Just.

It’s a simple equation but don’t underestimate how hard the Gunners have battled to put themselves in this situation. After losing both of their opening Group F games at Zagreb and then at home against Olympiakos, they looked dead and buried.

Now, they have a chance to advance.

“The team knew it was a very important day today – everyone had to turn up and they did. Now we’re going to play for our lives [against Olympiakos],” Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin said. “This was an important test for us, to be alive in the Champions League. The team responded very well. The team is showing we have got a lot of quality, a lot of creativity. When we have all our players back, we’re going to be up there.”

Wenger’s men have been in these kind of situations in the UCL before, but usually in the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: Chelsea hammer Tel Aviv, face tricky final day ]

In each of the past five seasons they’ve fallen at the last 16 hurdle but often that exit has come after after putting themselves in perilous situations from dreadful displays in the first legs and then nearly clawing things back in the second legs. Last season they lost to AS Monaco 3-1 at home in the first leg and won 2-0 away, going out on away goals. The season before that they lost 2-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the first leg but drew 1-1 away from home in the second leg and battled hard in Bavaria.

Simply put, Wenger’s men have been in this kind of “do or die” situation many times in the UCL over the past few seasons. It’s all about one game in Greece in two weeks. Wenger knows it as he spoke following their win over Zagreb which set up the tantalizing encounter in Athens on Dec. 9.

“It promises to be a very interesting game [against Olympiakos], but at least we have a chance,” Wenger said. “I think Mesut Ozil had an outstanding first half, he has got the taste for scoring now. I have never seen Ozil in the box so many times as in the last five or six games. The Europa League is not the target – let us give everything to remain in the Champions League.”