Rafa Benitez, the former Liverpool and Internazionale manager, is pushing himself forward as a serious candidate to become the next manager of Chelsea should Carlo Ancelotti be relieved of his duties in the summer.
Ancelotti's future is uncertain following the club's Champions League exit at the quarter-final stage to Manchester United, with Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea board set to make a decision at the end of the season.
Benitez, 51, would certainly be an outsider should the Chelsea job become vacant as Abramovich is understood to favour bringing Guus Hiddink in as a form of sporting director, with a younger head coach underneath him. However Hiddink remains committed to his current job as manager of the Turkish national team, which could be to Benitez's advantage.
Benitez remains in contact with his former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, who is struggling horribly following his £50m move to Chelsea in January, without a goal in 13 appearances for his new club. Abramovich is thought to want his manager to build a new team around Torres next season, along the lines of what Benitez did during his time at Liverpool, when the striker enjoyed the best spell of his career.
Torres scored 72 goals in his first three season in England, under Benitez's management, but has scored just nine times in 39 club games since the manager left Liverpool last summer.
Benitez said last week: "Fernando is a good professional and although he had some injuries he was learning the English style. He has a good mentality, he has good quality and his relationship with me was good also because we could talk in Spanish."
Benitez's proven track record in the Champions League, which he won with Liverpool in 2005, would also be in his favour. The Spaniard attracted a reputation for negative football during his time at Anfield, which would not go down well with the Abramovich hierarchy, but Benitez did build an attacking, flowing team at Valencia that won La Liga twice.
Benitez has returned to his home on Merseyside following his dismissal by Internazionale after just six months in the job last December, and had made it clear he is targeting a return to the Premier League.
He said: "If I have good offers abroad it would be OK but my priority is to return to the Premier League. I think the people have more respect and are more patient." Benitez however would be an unpopular choice among Chelsea fans, who derided his negative tactics whenever they played Liverpool.
Ancelotti's fate is probably already sealed, but since losing to United they have rallied with back-to-back wins in the Premier League that have pushed them back up to second in the table, six points behind Manchester United.
Ancelotti is not giving up hope that he could yet pull off a surprise, as Chelsea must travel to Old Trafford on 8 May, a week after the leaders play at Arsenal. Ahead of this evening's home game with West Ham United, Ancelotti said: "Everyone was looking to see what the reaction of the Chelsea players would be – and it was very good.
"It would have been easy to say our season is over but instead the players showed a very good reaction against West Brom, and against Birmingham, and I hope in the next few games. It is the character of the players.
"To be honest I can say that I would like to be in United's place, six points ahead. If they don't lose total control, they can win. We have to believe that we can win every game, and also that we can win at Old Trafford as we did last year. But this does not mean that we can win the title. The title is in the hands of Man Utd. We have to be honest."
Ancelotti is considering a recall for Torres, who has been on the bench for the last two games, even though Didier Drogba has been Chelsea's best player of late. "Maybe I can use some rotation to maintain the players' freshness," Ancelotti said. "It wouldn't be easy to leave Drogba out, but there's a chance we could leave him out on Saturday. It might be a good solution to give him the last 30 minutes of the game because he's fresh and fit."Reuse content