Unpopular Rafael Benitez checks in at Chelsea until the end of the season - BUT could stay long-term if he is successful

Former Liverpool manager replaces Di Matteo on interim basis but will be given chance to establish himself

Rafael Benitez was confirmed last night as the interim successor to Roberto Di Matteo as manager at Chelsea, with scope for the former Liverpool Champions League winner to stay in the job long-term if he is successful.

Benitez, 52, agreed a contract that lasts until the end of the season and although in different circumstances he would not have been the club's first choice, he will be given the chance to establish himself with the option of a further 12 months if successful. The club said in a statement: "The owner [Roman Abramovich] and the board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives."

Benitez will meet the team today for the first time after Di Matteo was sacked at around 4am yesterday morning when the squad arrived back at the training ground from Gatwick airport following their return from Turin.

The 3-0 defeat by Juventus, which leaves them on the brink of elimination from the Champions League group stages, was the final straw for Abramovich and the club's board. Pep Guardiola was their first choice but the former Barcelona coach will not abandon his year-long sabbatical in New York. The Borussia Dortmund coach, Jürgen Klopp, is also admired at the club, so too Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic and the Germany national team coach, Joachim Löw. During the summer Di Matteo was charged with giving the club a distinctive attacking style. There were doubts over whether he could achieve that and over the course of the season the club's hierarchy have increasingly felt the team lacked an identity and style.

He had won the Champions League employing a defensive approach that the club accepted at the time as pragmatic. The defeat by Juventus, a poor, incoherent display, was the confirmation the club needed to make the change. It left Chelsea with just two wins from their last eight games.

However, the club felt that a messy battle over compensation for any of their key targets would have proved problematic. They wanted a manager in place in time for Sunday's crucial Premier League game against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

The club accept privately that Benitez is not popular with Chelsea fans, because of his association with Liverpool and the two clubs' intense rivalry when Jose Mourinho was in charge. However, they believe that Benitez is capable of implementing the kind of distinctive style and approach they want.

Chelsea felt they had no option but to dismiss Di Matteo with news of their approach to Benitez having leaked. The 41-year-old looked grim-faced as he boarded the flight back to Gatwick along with his players, members of the press and guests including former Chelsea striker Andrei Shevchenko.

In a statement last night, Di Matteo said he had a "deep and unreserved" passion for Chelsea and would "treasure for the rest of my life" the club's victory in the Champions League last season. Should Southampton sack Nigel Adkins, Di Matteo, who is a close friend of Saints executive chairman Nicola Cortese, would be a prime candidate for the job.

Juan Mata said it had been "a difficult day" for the club. "With him as a manager, we won our first Champions League," he wrote on his Facebook page.

Chelsea are bracing themselves for the Football Association's decision on whether to charge referee Mark Clattenburg over Chelsea's allegations of racism, likely to be today. Didier Drogba has requested Fifa permission for a loan outside the transfer window from club Shanghai Shenhua, whose season has finished, with Chelsea a possible destination.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'