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Di Matteo is replaced by Rafa Benitez

London: Chelsea have confirmed the appointment of Rafael Benitez as replacement for Roberto Di Matteo on an 18-month contract. Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, went for the former Liverpool manager having seemingly been unable to woo Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona coach, and the man said to be his No. 1 target.

Chelsea said in a statement: “The owner 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.

“The 52-year-old Spaniard is due to meet the players at the training ground in Cobham tomorrow (Thursday). The two-time Uefa manager of the year comes with outstanding pedigree.

“He began his managerial career in his homeland, most notably at Valencia where he built a reputation as one of Europe’s top coaches by winning the Spanish League twice and the Uefa Cup.

“He then spent six years at Liverpool and led them to their fifth European Cup and an FA Cup.”

Benitez flew into London this afternoon for talks after the dismissal of Di Matteo earlier in the day. The former Liverpool manager emerged as the overwhelming favourite to take over at Stamford Bridge after Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat by Juventus, which left them in danger of elimination from the Champions League.

Having been out of work since being sacked by Inter Milan in December 2010, Benitez outlined his interest in the Chelsea job at a question-and-answer session in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. He was originally been scheduled to return to his home on Merseyside on Friday, but changed his plans to fly to London to meet members of the Chelsea hierarchy.

When asked about the Chelsea job, shortly after the club’s announcement on Wednesday that they had parted company with Di Matteo, Benitez said: “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.”

It has already become clear that Benitez, synonymous with Liverpool’s intense rivalry with Chelsea during the Jose Mourinho era, would face hostility from sections of the London club’s support. Trizia Fiorellino, the chair of the Chelsea Supporters Group, was quoted on the BBC as saying: “I don’t think Benitez is a good manager.” David Johnstone, of cfcuk, the Chelsea fanzine, added: “Benitez is not a Chelsea manager. He isn’t what we want.”