Hope for Rafa?
As Chelsea visit West Ham in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Saturday, could the experience of Sam Allardyce at Upton Park serve as an inspiration for Rafael Benitez to stick to his guns?
Last Updated: 30/11/12 11:54am
Rafa Benitez and Sam Allardyce come up against each other at Upton Park on Saturday
It was another strange evening at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. A second goalless draw in four days did little to help the mood at Chelsea or indeed the prospects of Rafael Benitez hanging around beyond the summer. The Spaniard at least put on a brave face. Meanwhile, Roman Abramovich looked impassive when the crowd barked the name of Roberto Di Matteo in a spirit of defiance. One wonders if those same fans will be quietly hoping he remains similarly impassive rather than act on their subsequent chants of 'We want our Chelsea back'.
Benitez could be forgiven for wanting to see a friendly face. And he may find an unlikely ally in the form of Saturday's opponent in the West Ham dugout. Sam Allardyce might afford himself a little chuckle when considering Benitez's predicament. "We're West Ham United, we play on the floor," sang the Hammers fans earlier this year as the club's promotion push looked to be faltering under Big Sam and his pragmatic approach.
Redemption followed in the playoff final against Blackpool and Allardyce has succeeded in turning opinions around. Not loved by the West Ham faithful but acknowledged by the custodians at the Academy of Football as the best man for the job, victory over Chelsea at Upton Park at the weekend would take the newly-promoted outfit up to seventh in the Premier League table.
Allardyce has always been bullish when questioned. Asked about the famed West Ham passing game, he responded in March, "When did they play like that? I don't remember it. Is outpassing teams and losing matches entertaining? We have created a winning environment at this club for the first time in donkey's years."
With Allardyce taking on the supporters while in post, Benitez must wonder what all the fuss is about for some comments about plastic flags over seven years ago that were uttered for the benefit of his doting Liverpool audience. If the former Bolton and Blackburn boss feels able to boast he has "improved every club" he has worked for, surely the ex-Liverpool and Valencia has every right to feel confident he is worthy of his position.
Indeed, Benitez appears in danger of having his life's work rewritten with back-to-back goalless draws seen as the damning evidence that proves the point. But while defensive and tactical organisation is a prerequisite for the 52-year-old, the simplification ignores the fact that Liverpool were the Premier League top scorers in 2008-09. Valencia were arguably the best team in Europe during Benitez's 2003-2004 season at the club.
It isn't often that Benitez will look to Allardyce for inspiration. But on Saturday lunchtime when the teams do battle in a London derby in front of the Sky Sports cameras, perhaps the Chelsea boss can take some comfort in the fact that his West Ham counterpart is the living proof of the theory he espoused in his opening press conference as the Blues boss. "I'm sure they (the fans) will be happy with a manager with a winning mentality and who wants to win games," he explained. "In the end I hope they will be pleased."
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