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.

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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.

La Liga: Barca’s 31-game unbeaten run ties longest in club history

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FA CUP: Man United advance, drawn against PL opposition in QF ]

Eibar 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona, the last remaining unbeaten side from Europe’s five major domestic leagues, warmed up for Tuesday’s Champions League round-of-16 clash with Chelsea by dismantling seventh-place Eibar side away from home on Saturday and extending their unbeaten run to 31 games in the league, tying the club’s all-time record in the process.

The Blaugrana took the lead after 15 minutes, when Lionel Messi slotted an inch-perfect through ball for Luis Suarez who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home (WATCH HERE) for his 17th league goal of the season (20 in all competitions).

Messi played his part in Barca’s second goal, which came three minutes before full-time. The Argentine’s shot was initially saved, but Jordi Alba arrived on the scene moments later to clean up and finish off the 10-man Basque minnows.

The victory sends Barca 10 points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid, who play on Sunday, and 20 points clear of fourth-place Real Madrid, who have played two fewer games thus far.

Malaga 1-2 Valencia

Valencia, who spent the majority of the season’s first half as Barca’s nearest title rivals (while never really challenging), fell to third when they recently lost three straight league games, but have since regained their footing with back-to-back wins, including Saturday’s come-from-behind triumph away to last-place Malaga.

Brown Ideye put Malaga ahead just before the half-hour mark, a lead which remained intact for more than 50 minutes. Alas, Francis Coquelin bagged his first goal for Valencia in the 80th minute to draw level, followed by a penalty kick converted by Dani Parejo five minutes later.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 1-2 Sevilla
Alaves 1-0 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Sociedad vs. Levante — 6 a.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao — 10:15 a.m. ET
Espanyol vs. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Real Madrid — 2:45 p.m. ET

Mourinho: VAR calls must be “perfect; Wagner wants quicker decisions

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HUDDERSFIELD, England (AP) Jose Mourinho called on the football authorities to start making video calls “perfect” after his Manchester United was denied a goal while beating Huddersfield 2-0 in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Juan Mata‘s effort late in the first half was disallowed by the video assistant referee for his knee being offside.

But it took the VAR, who is always based in an offsite studio for English soccer matches, several minutes to rule the goal out.

“It’s an experimental period,” Mourinho said. “They have to get rid of the bad and make it perfect.

“It should be the referee’s decision. Why? Because the referee wants to perform well. I don’t think they’re happy to make mistakes and if they have the VAR to help them make the right decision, I think the referees are probably happy with that.

“But if the VAR changes their good decisions for bad decisions, I think they’re not happy with that. It was a bit frustrating because the moment I saw (referee) Kevin Friend touch his earpiece, I knew something was going to happen.

“That doubt is not the best feeling. If the decision is right, I am super happy with that because I want the truth. Sometimes it goes against me and sometimes in my team’s favor. But I heard comments that maybe the linesman was right and not the studio.”

Huddersfield manager David Wagner said he was against the VAR.

“The decision went in our favor but this VAR for me kills the emotion of the game,” Wagner said. “This is why I don’t like it but I am not the person who makes the decision.”

FA Cup: Man Utd drawn vs. Brighton in QF; Chelsea to face Leicester

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Three more Premier League sides joined Chelsea and Leicester City in the quarterfinals of the 2017-18 FA Cup on Saturday, followed by the draw for the final eight…

[ WATCH: Lionel Messi finds Luis Suarez with a brilliant through ball ]

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United

Romelu Lukaku‘s first season at Man United has been, on the whole, quietly fruitful (12 PL goals, plus another 8 in other competitions), though his $96-million price tag continues to loom large. On Saturday, the big Belgian fired the Red Devils into the final eight with a brace against fellow Premier Leaguers Huddersfield.

It was 1-0 after just three minutes, when Lukaku slotted home to finish a quick counter attack set forth by a brilliant through ball from Juan Mata.

Mata made it 2-0 just before halftime, but the goal was wiped away after utilizing the video-assistant refereeing system. They don’t get much closer than this one.

United’s second came 10 minutes into the second half, when Alexis Sanchez took his turn playing Lukaku into acres of wide open space.

When the draw was made following the conclusion of Saturday’s game, we learned that United will host another PL side, Brighton & Hove Albion, in the next round.

Brighton & Hove Albion 3-1 Coventry City

That’s because Brighton brushed aside League 2 side Coventry City to reach their first quarterfinal since 1986.

Jurgen Locadia, Connor Goldson and Leonardo Ulloa bagged the goals for the ‘Gulls.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Southampton

Southampton are also through to the quarterfinals, thanks to their 2-1 victory away to West Brom. Salomon Rondon’s stunning volley undoubtedly stole the headlines (WATCH HERE), but Saints are the ones to advance, thanks to goals scored by Wesley Hoedt (11th minute) and Dusan Tadic (56th).

In the next round, Southampton will be away to the winner of Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City (Monday, 2:55 p.m. ET).

Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Swansea City

The last thing relegation battlers Swansea City would have wanted is for a replay to be shoehorned into their remaining schedule, but Carlos Carvalhal’s side was unable to best Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, thus a replay at the Liberty Stadium on a yet-to-be-determined date over the next month.

Full quarterfinal draw

Sheffield Wednesday/Swansea City vs. Rochdale/Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Leicester City vs. Chelsea
Wigan Athletic/Manchester City vs. Southampton

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Rochdale vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City — 2:55 p.m. ET

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern wins it late, Leverkusen goes second

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It looked like Bayern Munich was on pace to drop points for just the fifth time this season, but then the club’s star striker stepped up in the biggest of moments.

[ MORE: TFC on the brink of adding Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ager Aketxe ]

The German leaders came back to pick up a 2-1 victory on the road at Wolfsburg after Robert Lewandowski converted a penalty kick in stoppage time.

Sandro Wagner’s second-half header had pulled the match level off of an Arjen Robben cross in the 64th minute. Robben atoned for an earlier penalty-kick miss, which would have tied the match ten minutes prior.

Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke were each big winners on the day, with the two clubs moving into the top four.

Leverkusen’s 2-1 win on the road against Hertha Berlin saw Heiko Herrlich and his side move up to second place in the Bundesliga, albeit a lengthy distance behind leaders Bayern.

Schalke took care of business at home against Hoffenheim, bringing the Miners one step closer to the top four. The side is now level on 37 points with Borussia Dortmund for fourth, but the Christian Pulisic and Co. currently boast a superior goal differential.

Below are all of Saturday’s scores from around Germany’s top flight.

Cologne 1-1 Hannover 96
Hertha Berlin 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Freiburg 1-0 Werder Bremen
Wolfsburg 1-1 Bayern Munich
Schalke 2-1 Hoffenheim