In case you missed Sir Alex Ferguson moaning about it – and let’s face it, you didn’t, did you? – Rafael Benitez takes Chelsea to Japan to contest the World Club Cup this week, giving the Blues’ new interim manager the chance to claim a trophy less than a month into his job at Stamford Bridge. Not bad work if you can get it, eh?
Ferguson made the correct, if somewhat churlish, point that it would be the second time that Benitez has found himself in the situation of contesting this most strange of continental tournaments without having anything to do with qualification (i.e. winning the Champions League in the previous season), but if people are wondering why the former Liverpool boss is putting up with all the abuse from the Chelsea faithful, then look no further.
Benitez won this cup with Inter Milan after taking over the Italian giants in the wake of their Champions League triumph under Jose Mourinho in 2010, and now has the chance to do so again after taking over the reigning European Champions (if we can call Chelsea that now they are in the Europa League) three weeks ago, and all Rafa is seeing is the trophy on his CV and nothing else.
It is the sole reason he took the job at Stamford Bridge, and if he can leave Japan in ten days’ time able to call Chelsea the best club side in the world, then he won’t care about anything else, least of all what the more volatile section of the Blues support sing about him.
Which is an admirable attitude, because he must secretly be hurting about the abuse that has come his way – you wouldn’t be human not to. But whether or not he can win over the Chelsea fans (he probably can’t) Benitez will be focused on winning the Club World Cup, and their semi-final against the Mexican side Monterrey on Thursday.
Benitez has called the tournament ‘massive’, but personally I don’t see it: the whole thing seems like a FIFA vanity project more than anything that is really that important. But if you’re in it you might as well win it, and Chelsea should see off their Mexican opponents. They are 12/25 to do just that, with the draw at 31/10 and Monterrey quoted at 21/4.
That quote on Monterrey reflects their poor form. In their second consecutive year in the tournament after winning back-to-back North American championships, Monterrey might have beaten the South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai 3-1 in the quarter-final to set up this tie with Chelsea (one better than they went last year when they were defeated in the last eight) but domestically they have struggled.
Victor Vucetich’s side are currently seventh in Liga MX, 11 points off the pace. Before the victory over Ulsan, Monterrey had won just two of their previous 11 games and look in no sort of form to trouble a team as talented as Chelsea.
Benitez has had a mixed start, but in putting nine goals past Nordsjælland and Sunderland in the last two games, there have been signs that the players might just be buying into his methods.
But 12/25 is a bit short, especially when Vucetich has a great record in set-piece occasions – he has won 12 of 13 finals. But then again, Benitez has always specialised in the one-off games, too, so I’ll be on the 6/5 that Chelsea win and there are under 3.5 goals. It may well be cagey at first, and Benitez will be keen, as he always is, to make sure they don’t lose before he tries to win. But win they should, and that 6/5 is better value than the 12/25.