Rafa Benitez is unlikely to be truly welcomed as Chelsea manager, but a few more performances like the one his Blues side produced on Sunday and we might reach the point where there is a grudging acceptance of the former Liverpool boss.
It’s going to take a bit more than an 8-0 victory over a young, inexperienced and (on the day) extremely poor Aston Villa side to win over the doubters who decided from day one they didn’t want Benitez at their club, but there was a sense that maybe, just maybe, the Chelsea fans are going to let the Spaniard get on with his job and see what happens.
The reaction that followed Benitez’s appointment and the vitriol and hatred that rained down on him from the stands when he made his Stamford Bridge bow against Manchester City was appalling no matter what the supporters feel about him, but Sunday seemed the first occasion when that opposition didn’t really impose itself on proceedings and the atmosphere was even (whisper it) relatively normal.
There were still a few singing for former manager Roberto Di Matteo, but it’s true that the majority of football supporters are fickle and only sing when they are winning, and if Benitez can get Chelsea back on track and in the title hunt then his previous allegiances will be largely forgotten.
Is that likely? Well, the two Manchester clubs look predictably strong and 11 points is quite a gap to pull back on leaders United, even with a game in hand.
But there is talent in the Chelsea squad – far more than was being displayed under the last month or two of Di Matteo’s reign – and it is not a fanciful notion that Benitez can get the west London side in the race for the title.
There is little doubt Chelsea look far more cohesive, defensively sound and fluid than they did under the Italian and the improvement has been notable. But the busy Christmas period, on the back of a trip to Japan and a rearranged League Cup tie at Leeds United, will be testing and points can ill afford to be dropped.
The trip to Norwich City will not be easy, though. The Canaries are in great form at Carrow Road and look to be pretty big priced up at 19/4, with the draw at 3/1 and the away win an 11/20 shot, and this has ‘banana skin’ written all over it for Chelsea.
Norwich have won five home league games on the spin and they haven’t just been beating dross, either: Arsenal and Manchester United have been seen off in Norfolk and the defeat to West Brom at the Hawthorns at the weekend was the first for Chris Hughton’s side in 11 games.
The Canaries are in tenth position, ten points clear of the drop zone and looking in no danger of being dragged into a relegation battle, especially when they are so strong at home.
So it’s a tough one for Chelsea, who have played well enough under Benitez but look too short to back here at 11/20. I don’t think that is a price you should be getting involved with because at some point over the festive period, tiredness will catch up with the Blues and there could well be a below-par performance round the corner.
Instead, what I am going to do here is play the 23/20 that there are more goals in the second half than there are in the first. For some reason, since the two 0-0 draws that opened Benitez’s reign, six of the seven matches Chelsea have played have had an avalanche of goals after the break.
There have been 21 goals scored in seven second periods and on six of those occasions that has meant that there were more goals after the break than in the opening 45 minutes.
Four of Norwich’s last six at home have done the same and I’ll be on the 23/20 that it happens again.