Rafael Benitez to be appointed Chelsea manager tonight as he jets in for interview to replace Roberto Di Matteo

Benitez to take charge until the end of the season as Guardiola remains target to lead Chelsea on long-term basis

Rafa Benitez is expected to be confirmed as Chelsea’s new manager this evening.

Chelsea are preparing to make a statement confirming the shock appointment following this morning’s dismissal of Roberto Di Matteo. Whether his appointment will be permanent or a temporary measure in preparation for the arrival of former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola in the summer remains the subject of intense speculation.

For Benitez it represents an astonishing return to management after almost exactly two years without a job since he was sacked by Internazionale. Benitez is flying into London from Abu Dhabi  in preparation for tonight’s announcement.

Benitez is Chelsea’s first-choice to replace Di Matteo, who was axed in the early hours of this morning after Chelsea lost at Juventus last night, leaving them in danger of failing to qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time in their history.

The Evening Standard is reporting that the job is Benitez’s to lose, although he will only be given a contract until the end of the season with owner Roman Abramovich still keen on hiring former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola for the long term.

Benitez turned down the chance to be an interim coach at Chelsea in March after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas and the post went to Di Matteo.

The 52-year-old wanted an 18-month contract rather than the three months he was offered but it is believed he is now prepared to accept a caretaker role, having been out of work since being fired by Inter Milan in 2010.

Benitez was at an event in Abu Dhabi this morning and when asked whether he has had any contact from Chelsea, Benitez replied: “You asked me directly, I can’t answer directly. In football a lot of people are talking so we will see what happens in the next few days. I am looking for a club that can challenge for trophies and Chelsea are one of these clubs. I have to talk with my agent and see what he has been doing the last couple of days. But I am just trying to go to a team that can win.”

Chelsea see Benitez as the man that can get the best out of ailing £50million striker Fernando Torres.

The Spain international has scored just 19 goals in 87 appearances since joining in January 2011, which compares badly with the 65 he netted in 91 League starts for Liverpool, most of which came when Benitez was in charge at Anfield having signed him from Atletico Madrid in 2007.

Chelsea fans will not welcome his appointment, although there is still speculation linking former boss Avram Grant with the job.

It is believed Chelsea have considered firing Di Matteo for some time and that it was not a knee-jerk reaction to last night’s loss or defeat to West Brom in the Premier League on Saturday.

It is understood there has been concern over his failure to get the best out of the squad this season, especially having spent over £80million on new players in the summer.

Chelsea’s first choice to replace Di Matteo on a long-term basis has always been Guardiola. They have been in contact with his advisors regularly over the past 18 months and tried to hire him in the summer despite Di Matteo winning the Champions League in May.

Chelsea have been in touch again in the past few days but are still facing a difficult task. Guardiola is taking a year sabbatical in New York and has no intention of cutting it short.

He is expected to make a decision on his future in the new year with Manchester City, AC Milan and Bayern Munich also interested in him but Chelsea’s sacking of Di Matteo will not help their chances of luring him. Abramovich has sacked eight managers since he bought the club in 2003 and the instability is in danger of putting off Guardiola.

In May, Di Matteo fulfilled Abramovich’s dream as Chelsea won the Champions League for the first time in their history but last night’s 3-0 loss left their hopes of retaining the title in doubt.

Di Matteo was sacked as the team arrived back from Turin and Standard Sport understands chief executive Ron Gourlay and chairman Bruce Buck delivered the news on behalf of Abramovich. The manager said a quick farewell to his players, many of whom have been devastated by his departure. Chelsea announced the decision in a statement this morning but there was no mention of a caretaker manager, which strongly suggests the new boss will be in place for Sunday’s match against Manchester City.

The downturn in Chelsea’s fortunes has been dramatic because it was just over a month ago that the club beat Tottenham 4-2, which was their sixth victory in a row in all competitions, to go four points clear at the top of the Premier League.

But the club have won just two of their last eight matches since then, which has seen them drop to third place in the top flight and also third in their Champions League group with just one match remaining and looking certain to miss out on qualifying for the group phase.

Chelsea banked £47m for winning European’s biggest prize and earlier this month the Blues credited that sum with them posting a £1m annual profit, their first during the Abramovich era.

However, an early exit this season would leave them in danger of falling back into the red next year — last term Manchester United received £28m after failing to make the last 16.

Chelsea said: “The team’s recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and the board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?