Photo: Rafa Benitez
Chelsea on Wednesday named Rafa Benitez as manager for the balance of the 2012-2013 season, replacing Roberto Di Matteo, who was fired earlier in the day over the English club’s latest embarrassing loss in Europe.
The Spaniard, who managed Valencia to La Liga titles in 2002 and 2004, returns to the Premier League two years after being let go by Liverpool, which won the Champions League under his tutelage in 2005.
Benitez, 52, will be taking the reins of a squad that no longer controls its own destiny in Champions League play after Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Juventus.
Chelsea now faces the prospect of becoming the first defending Champions League winner to be eliminated in the group stage. The London side has also slipped to third place in the Premier League.
“Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season,” team management said in a statement.
Benitez, the statement said, is a “manager with significant experience at the highest level ... who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives.”
The new manager will meet with the players on Thursday.
Trailing Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus in Group E, Chelsea’s chances of advancing to the Champions League knockout stage depend not only on a win over humble Nordsjaelland in a Dec. 5 clash, but also on the outcome of the final group match between the Ukrainian and Italian clubs.
Chelsea’s demanding owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, has gone through eight managers since taking over the club in 2003.