London, England, United Kingdom (4E Sports) – Premier League squad Chelsea has picked veteran Spaniard Rafa Benitez as interim manager, replacing Roberto Di Matteo, who was fired after the team’s 3-0 loss to Juventus in the Champions League.
Di Matteo was given the boot after the loss moved Chelsea to the brink of becoming the first defending champion eliminated from the Champions League group stage.
The 52-year-old Benitez, who last worked with Inter in 2010, is scheduled to meet the players at the training ground in Cobham Thursday. He will be the ninth manager under Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich since he bought the club in 2003.
Aside from struggling in the Champions League, Chelsea is also groping for form in the Premier League.
The team had been leading for much of the season before dropping to third place behind defending champion Manchester City and Manchester United after garnering just two points in its last four games.
“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 as we head into a vitally important part of the season,” Chelsea said in a statement.
In the Champions League, Chelsea is in third place in Group E behind Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus with one match left. The Blues next face Danish club FC Nordsjaelland, but they could still be eliminated even if they win depending on the result of the other game.
“The club faces a difficult task ahead in qualifying for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League as well as maintaining a strong challenge for the top of the Premier League while competing in three other cup competitions. Our aim is to remain as competitive as possible and challenge strongly on all fronts,” Chelsea said.
Chelsea’s next game will be a home Premier League match against Manchester City Sunday.
Di Matteo took over from the fired Andre Villas-Boas in March, initially on a temporary basis.
Despite the squabbling factions within the squad, Di Matteo led Chelsea to the FA Cup title and then the Champions League crown, beating Barcelona in the semifinals and then Bayern Munich in the final.
“We will never forget the huge contribution he has made to this club’s history,” Chelsea’s statement said.