Rafael Benitez describes relationship with Roman Abramovich as 'excellent' as Jose Mourinho is lined up to replace him at Chelsea

The Champions League holders are giving serious consideration to firing Rafael Benitez before his contract expires

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho is being lined up to make a dramatic return to Chelsea in the summer, while Avram Grant has emerged as a serious contender to oversee the rest of Chelsea's season following Rafael Benitez's outburst.

While the current interim manager will be in charge for Saturday's match against West Brom, it could be the Spaniard's last game at the helm at Stamford Bridge.

The Spaniard launched an attack on both the board and sections of the fans following last night's FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough. The 54-year-old also confirmed he would not stay beyond the end of his contract in the summer. However, Chelsea are giving serious consideration to disposing with the former Liverpool boss before then.

Amid the talk over his future, Benitez has given an interview to the BBC in which he has re-iterated that he will be at the club until the end of the season, and described his relationship with Abramovich as "excellent".

Should Benitez be sacked after this weekend's game, he would become the third manager in a row to be fired by Roman Abramovich following a fixture against the Baggies. Both Roberto di Matteo and Andre Villas-Boas left after playing the Midlands side.

While Grant, who has recently been pictured attending matches at Stamford Bridge, is in line to take temporary charge, The Evening Standard understands the Blues are growing increasingly confident of reappointing Mourinho in the summer.

Following Chelsea's 2-0 win at Middlesbrough last night, Benitez blasted the club for only naming him as 'interim' first-team manager after he replaced Di Matteo in November.

He also attacked the fans for constantly chanting and displaying banners protesting against him.

Chelsea today insisted it is "business as usual" and that they view his comments as aimed more towards the fans rather than at the board.

Benitez took training today but Chelsea are believed to be ready to make a change with the club in danger of missing out on Champions League football next season.

It was revealed this week the chances of Benitez making a premature departure were "possible" as concern was increasing at the club over results and his tactics.

Grant is in line to take temporary charge, even though he was far from popular with Chelsea fans after succeeding the Special One in September 2007. The 58-year-old stepped in following Mourinho's sacking and led them to the Champions League Final eight months later before also being fired.

Significantly, Grant was seen with Roman Abramovich in the owner's box at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea's FA Cup replay against Brentford two weeks ago.

But Mourinho, who won five trophies at Chelsea in a three-year spell, is closing in on a dramatic return.

The Evening Standard revealed at the start of the month the club were more confident than ever of bringing him back and those hopes have risen further following a series of informal conversations to sound out his interest.

Mourinho is almost certain to leave Real Madrid in the summer after disagreements with several high-profile players and the club's hierarchy and will attract interest from a host of Europe's top clubs.

Paris St-Germain and Manchester City are willing to let Mourinho name his price but Chelsea believe they are moving into pole position, despite the need to resolve a number of issues. It is believed Mourinho is willing to work under owner Abramovich once again despite a breakdown in the pair's relationship leading to his sacking.

Although discussions are at a very formative stage, Mourinho is thought to have indicated he will only return to Stamford Bridge if he can exert greater control over the club's transfer policy and has also sought guarantees over less interference from Abramovich in team affairs.

Chelsea's representatives have attempted to be as discreet as possible so as not to undermine Benitez's position but it is conceivable that last night's attack on a section of the club's fans was prompted by his awareness of the club's pursuit of Mourinho.

Benitez was already under strain before his outburst as the club are in danger of missing out on a top-four finish in the Premier League.

The 52-year-old was told on his appointment that the priority was to qualify for next season's Champions League. But the team have won just three of their last eight League games and have dropped below Tottenham to fourth in the table, while Arsenal are now just two points behind.

To make matters worse, the club failed to win the FIFA Club World Cup and were beaten by Swansea in the Capital One Cup semi-final.

Benitez has the second worst winning percentage of any Chelsea coach in the Abramovich era at just 52 per cent, with only Andre Villas-Boas, who was sacked almost exactly 12 months ago, below him on 48 per cent.

His record is worse than Di Matteo, who had a 62 per cent win rate, while Chelsea were just four points behind the Premier League leaders (Manchester City) when the Italian departed and trail Manchester United by 19 now.

Benitez's relationship with many of the players has deteriorated and words were exchanged between him and the squad before training on Monday.

The former Liverpool manager's treatment of John Terry has come under intense scrutiny as the captain has made just six appearances since recovering from a knee injury and was left on the bench for the 2-0 defeat at Manchester City on Sunday.  


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