Chelsea's manager, Rafa Benitez, was more adamant than ever last night that he will survive until his contract expires at the end of the season after a 1-0 win at home to West Bromwich Albion that supporters will feel was less impressive than he claimed.
"Today was a great performance," he said. "We were in control for 75 minutes and their goalkeeper was man of the match. We're confident we can finish in the top three." Had Albion managed the equaliser they belatedly threatened in the last quarter of an hour, however, the mood would have felt very different. As it was, tension set in and the memory of some good football in the first half soon faded.
Many of the crowd appeared to have heeded the manager's request to support the team, although others responded with "We'll sing what we want" as well as chanting the name of Jose Mourinho. The "Special One", who won two successive Premier League titles for the club, breaking records along the way, is the firm favourite with bookmakers and supporters to become the next manager, although Everton's David Moyes has been seen at Stamford Bridge recently.
If Real Madrid follow yesterday's second 3-1 win of the week over Barcelona by going through in the Champions' League against Manchester United, Benitez would not be under any threat from Mourinho. In that case, the option being suggested should Chelsea suffer any more bad results is that Avram Grant, a favourite of the owner, Roman Abramovich, should return until the end of the season.
But Sir Alex Ferguson, preparing to meet Mourinho again in the last-16 second leg at Old Trafford on Tuesday, is not convinced that his old adversary will leave Spain this summer, as most observers are expecting. "Everyone assumes he'll leave but I heard that last year too and he's still there," Ferguson said.
"I don't know how they can replace someone like him anyway. A reasonable assessment of his term at Real Madrid has got to be countered with how good Barcelona have been. I think he's done a great job there, would you really want to let a good coach like that go? I don't think they would want that. I just think it would be difficult for Jose to leave Real Madrid, because he's at the very top."
Yesterday United were comfortable 4-0 winners over Norwich, extending their lead at the top of the Premier League to 15 points again before Manchester City play at Aston Villa tomorrow. QPR provided the perfect reply to reports that their players had indulged in a drunken binge while training in Dubai, winning 2-1 at Southampton.
QPR's manager, Harry Redknapp, celebrating his 66th birthday, accused an agent of leaking false information in a bid to destabilise the club. "It was a disgusting story," Redknapp said.