Chelsea’s Benitez upbeat ahead of City clash
Chelsea’s Benitez upbeat ahead of City clash
Benitez arrived at Chelsea on Thursday and so became the club’s ninth manager in just over eight years under the ownership of Russian billionaire Abramovich.
Former Liverpool coach Benitez, 52, is only under contract until the end of the current season after replacing Roberto di Matteo, sacked on Wednesday after European champions Chelsea lost 3-0 at Juventus in the Champions League.
Chelsea’s rapid turnover of managers under Abramovich has long been a topic of discussion in English football.
But Benitez, who on Thursday had still to meet the Blues owner, said the experience could not be worse than the difficult relationship with Gillett and Hicks that led to the Spaniard’s departure from Liverpool two years ago.
Benitez will have a tough baptism of fire tomorrow when Manchester City, fresh from a draw with Real Madrid that scuppered their hopes of reaching the Champions League last 16 for the second season in a row, arrive in west London with a four-point lead over the hosts.
Manchester United can overtake cross-town rivals City, if only for a day, at the summit when they face a bottom of the table QPR still looking for a first league win this season under Old Trafford old boy Mark Hughes today.
The match will be United’s first since Friday’s scheduled unveiling of a statue of manager Alex Ferguson who, in contrast to the managerial maelstrom elsewhere, has presided over the club for 26 years.
West Bromwich Albion, the surprise package among the top four, will look to continue their impressive start under former Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clarke when they travel to Sunderland.
Arsenal and Everton will try to press their top four claims against Aston Villa and Norwich respectively with Gunners manager Arsene Wenger buoyed by the fact the top teams all seem to be dropping points.
“With what is going on in the league, it looks like the team that can show consistency has a chance and if we are able to show consistency now we have a chance to come back to the top teams,” said Wenger.
Sunday sees Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers taking his team to former club Swansea, with both sides in mid-table.
Meanwhile strugglers Southampton will look to build on last week’s win over QPR at home to Newcastle as London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham meet at White Hart Lane.
Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated)
Saturday: Aston Villa v Arsenal (1730GMT), Everton v Norwich, Manchester United v QPR, Stoke v Fulham, Sunderland v West Brom (1245GMT), Wigan v Reading.
Sunday: Swansea v Liverpool (1330GMT), Southampton v Newcastle, Chelsea v Manchester City (1600GMT), Tottenham v West Ham (1600GMT).
'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt
- Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday
- Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious
ROSTOV-ON-DON: “Keeping possession of the ball seems to be the absolute and most important thing, but then when you sometimes find issues in getting the ball into your opponent’s half, you have to find other movements and ways of doing that,” said Oscar Tabarez after watching his lackluster Uruguay rely on a solitary Luis Suarez goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the World Cup.
Tabarez was talking about his own team’s struggles, yet the assessment is considerably more applicable to the Green Falcons, who dominated possession and retained the ball with ease in midfield, yet for the second match running looked absolutely bereft of ideas in the final third. With Uruguay and Russia now on six points, Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday.
The Green Falcons coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed he intends to stay at the helm of the side for the long-haul, yet is only too aware that the potential of this team is being hamstrung by its inability to score. He called it “our weakness”, adding that his side enjoyed “good ball possession, but no effectiveness”. They, he said, did not have the sufficient “weapons or tools” to equalize.
Pizzi’s side have found the net now just twice in their past five games and against Uruguay managed only three shots on target in 90 minutes — two of which came in added time and were so tame they would hardly have troubled the opposition goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had he been relaxing at his far post sipping a drink. In the 5-0 defeat to Russia last week, they failed to muster a single shot on target.
Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious. One passage of play in the opening exchanges saw Saudi Arabia complete 16 passes untroubled without the ball entering the opposition penalty box. When Uruguay finally won possession, they required only four quick exchanges to find Edinson Cavani on the left wing drilling the ball across the front of goal.
“I don’t share that assessment,” said Pizzi, when it was put to him that his team was too slow to attack. “We played at the speed that was necessary. We need to be accurate, but if you step up the speed you lose accuracy with your passes. We had control of the game and that was why.”
Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi had been the focal point of much criticism from Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, after the Russia “fiasco” and was dropped from the side against Uruguay. So too was goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, another who Al-Sheikh name-checked as having been at fault.
Pizzi, asked whether the scathing assessment from his bosses had forced his hand when it came to team selection, calmly dismissed the suggestion. He also ruled out the notion that administrative issues between the players and the country’s football federation had caused unrest in his squad.
“I have a list of 23 players here and they are all available to play. We are here together and pushing in the same direction.
“I wanted — and still want — to make the Saudi Arabian people feel proud of our energy and the desire we show in matches. Unfortunately we were unable to do that against Russia and will be playing our next match without any hope of progressing. I hope now they will feel a little more proud even though we are out of the World Cup,” he said.