Benitez under threat after latest Chelsea defeat

Rafael Benitez’s tenure as Chelsea manager was always billed as temporary. Now it could be even more short-lived than he anticipated. A 3-2 loss to Newcastle in the Premier League piled pressure on the manager whom the fans want out. The players are not responding to the caretaker and owner Roman Abramovich may be beginning to regret getting rid of Roberto Di Matteo.

Benitez is always willing to find excuses for his team, and did his best after sloppy defensive errors cost them three goals at Newcastle. "We were winning 2-1 and then we allowed them to play counter attacking football four or five times," he said. "I was really pleased with the reaction of the players and the second-half performance but we have to manage it in a better way, and show better experience when we are winning because at 2-1 with Mata running the show we looked on our way to victory."

It’s telling that Chelsea, known for their defensive resilience under Jose Mourinho, and even Di Matteo, are now increasingly vulnerable. "We didn’t have the experience to stop the counter-attacks. Every time you lose it is something you cannot change but you have to improve."

Chelsea will be strengthened by the return of players from the Africa Cup of Nations, but face a key sequence of fixtures that will decide the manager’s future. In February Chelsea face home-and-away ties in the Europa League against Sparta Prague, and an FA Cup replay against Brentford, followed by a vital Premier League match against Manchester City. Champions League qualification is an imperative for Chelsea and Tottenham are now just one point behind in fourth place.

"The top four is the priority and we will try and get in the top three," Benitez said. "We have four players coming back so hopefully we can manage things a bit better." If not, Benitez will be joining the ranks of the unemployed.

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