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.

Heartbroken Karius issues apology to Liverpool

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Liverpool’s disappointing result in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final can be chalked up to many factors, but all anyone will ever remember is Loris Karius‘ performance… and the goalkeeper knows it.

[ MORE: Bale brace guides Real Madrid to third straight UCL title ]

Karius issued this series of tweets on Sunday, declaring his disappointment from the team’s 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid, as well as an apology to the supporters and his entire club.

Of the two errors Karius made, the Real Madrid equalizer from Karim Benzema was certainly the more glaring.

After receiving the ball on a routine grab, Karius rushed his distribution from goal while Benzema read the play perfectly and stepped in front of the throw to get a foot on the ball.

The ball then deflected into the back of the Liverpool net, and changed the complexion of the match drastically.

While Karius’ mistakes cannot, and won’t, go unnoticed, the Reds were still reeling from Mohamed Salah‘s gruesome shoulder injury in the first half — which leaves the Egypt international’s availability uncertain for the summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Rotherham gains promotion to Championship

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After one season down in League One, the Millers are returning to the Sky Bet Championship in 2018/19.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham rescues England in Toulon opener ]

Rotherham United defeated Shrewsbury Town, 2-1, in extra time on Sunday at Wembley Stadium to reach the Championship.

Regulation wasn’t enough to decide the League One playoff final, but Richard Wood brace ensured his side, Rotherham, would reach the English second division ahead of the 2018/19 season.

Wood did superbly to volley home his squad’s second goal in the first half of extra time, after a brilliant Joe Newell set piece curled into the path of the defender.

Shrewsbury equalized around the hour mark when Alex Rodman calmly placed the ball beyond goalkeeper Marek Rodak from close ranger after a perfectly-executed set piece that caught the Millers off guard.

The first half went largely in favor Rotherham though, having taken the lead in the 32nd minute through Wood’s header to the bottom left corner.

The lead should have been larger though heading into halftime, but David Ball’s early penalty kick was saved by Shrews keeper Dean Henderson in the ninth minute to keep the match scoreless at the time.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man United plans Joe Hart move and more

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Pro Soccer Talk takes a glance at some of the biggest transfer rumors on Sunday…

[ MORE: Bale brace guides Real to third straight UCL title ]


We start in Manchester, where the Red Devils are reportedly interested in raiding their cross-town rivals for a back-up goalkeeper.

Man United is said to have interest in Manchester City’s Joe Hart, who missed out on being called up to England for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Hart has spent the last two seasons on loan from the Citizens, spending 2016/17 in Serie A with Torino and this past season with West Ham United.


Sticking with United, the Red Devils are preparing a new contract for Anthony Martial, according to the Sun.

Martial has become a regular for United since joining from Monaco in 2015, scoring 36 goals in all competitions.


Finally, Danny Rose could be making a Merseyside move if Everton has it their way.

The Toffees are eyeing up the Tottenham left back, although Manchester United has also expressed its interest in the England international.

Rose missed a significant portion of the 2017/18 season due to a knee injury, and the 27-year-old could be on the move this summer despite spending the last 11 seasons in London with Spurs.

Tammy Abraham rescues England in Toulon opener

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It took a late finish to nab three points on Sunday, but England’s title defence at the Toulon Tournament is off an running.

[ MORE: Bale brace guides Real Madrid past Liverpool ]

The Three Lions’ Under-21 squad picked up a 2-1 win in their Group A opener against China, after having fallen behind to the Asian nation inside the opening half hour.

England, winners of the last two editions of the competition, conceded in the 20th minute to Yan Dinghao, and went into the halftime break behind 1-0.

Manager Paul Simpson and his side came out strong in the second stanza, though, and found an equalizer five minutes in through Middlesbrough defender Dael Fry‘s header.

It seemed as though England would be destined for a point, however, Tammy Abraham‘s tap-in finish in the 85th minute ensured a crucial victory to open the tournament for the Three Lions.

England will round out Group A with matches against Mexico and Qatar on March 28 and June 1, respectively.

At the Toulon Tournament, the three group winners automatically reach the semifinals, while the best second-place nation also receives a bid into the final four.