London: Rafael Benitez`s first game as Chelsea manager ended in a tepid goalless draw against Manchester City on an afternoon memorable only for the extraordinary hostility that greeted his unveiling.
Benitez faced genuine and sustained opposition from large swatches of the home support as they made clear their anger at the former Liverpool manager succeeding the popular Roberto Di Matteo.
Moreover, the Spaniard was unable to provide instant alchemy to the team, as Chelsea mustered only a single shot on target in a match dominated by defences.
In front of the watching Roman Abramovich, perhaps Benitez’s only achievement was that new-look centre-back pair David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic had managed to keep the Premier League champions so quiet.
The draw leaves Chelsea five points adrift of leaders Manchester United, while City finish the weekend in second place after failing to make their domination of the play and scoring opportunities count.
However, it was extraordinary reception received by Benitez that was the main talking point on an afternoon when the drama in the stands far exceeded that on the pitch.
It took the pitchside announcer passing on the news of former Chelsea manager Dave Sexton’s death at the age of 82 to end the thunderous jeers and chants of ‘Only One Di Matteo’ that had greeted Benitez’s introduction as the new manager.
The anger towards the Spaniard continued throughout the match, with regular chants of ‘F*** off Benitez, you’re not wanted here’ interrupted by all sections of the ground marking the 16-minute mark with vociferous chants in support of Di Matteo, who wore the No.16 shirt here during his playing days.
All the while, Abramovich, the author of the dugout dramas, sat watching impassively at the back of a stand.
The Rafa-lution began with the ninth manager of the Abramovich era making only one change from midweek, with Fernando Torres restored to the starting line-up in place of Gary Cahill, who dropped to the bench. For Manchester City, Gareth Barry and James Milner replaced Samir Nasri and Maicon.
In the early exchanges, Chelsea’s key attackers lacked accuracy with their passing and were easily smothered by the visitors.
Roberto Mancini, whose name was sung loudly by City’s travelling support at regular intervals, would have been satisfied that his team looked far more organised than of late, while also counterattacking with some purpose.
But the champions of England failed to make their dominance count against the champions of Europe in a flat opening period, with Sergio Aguero and David Silva wasting excellent headed opportunities to put their team ahead.
Both defences continued to be on top in the second half, with Chelsea not creating a genuine opportunity until 60 minutes had been played.
Torres, once the most feared marksman in Europe under Benitez, had the chance to resurrect one of the most profitable striker-manager alliances of recent times in emphatic fashion.
But, in keeping with his Chelsea career, the No.9 fired a half-volley narrowly over the bar after the ball had sat up well for him inside the box following good interplay from Eden Hazard and Juan Mata.
In terms of entertainment, that was about it.