LONDON — Rafael Benitez concedes that the task of reviving Chelsea could turn out to be a bigger challenge than he had envisaged in the wake of his side’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham United.
After little more than a week in charge, Benitez has overseen two scoreless draws and an unexpected reverse that has left the club’s Premier League title ambitions severely dented.
That run has done nothing to get those supporters disgruntled by the dismissal of Roberto Di Matteo and opposed to the appointment of Benitez onside. In addition, the reaction of the visiting fans at Upton Park confirmed the strength of feeling against the new manager.
Benitez’s focus now shifts towards Wednesday’s Champions League meeting with Nordsjaelland, a game Chelsea must win if they are to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages of a competition they won last season.
To have any chance of securing victory against the Danish side, the interim manager must lift the spirits of a team that capitulated alarmingly against West Ham on Saturday after establishing a first-half lead.
Asked if he considered the job more challenging than he expected when he accepted the offer to replace Di Matteo until the end of the season, Benitez said that could be. " It’s a top side in the middle of the season, and things aren’t the best.
"We’ll try to improve things, but it will take some time."
The difficult start has inevitably raised questions about Benitez’s future, even after such a short time in charge. But he shrugged off the concerns.
"My concern is improving the team," Benitez said. "If we do that and start winning games, we’ll be able to turn things around.
"I’m not thinking about anything else."
Benitez insists he has the support of the players. "After one week, I’m 100% sure they want to improve and want to win ."
Juan Mata put Chelsea ahead in the 13th minute, but Benitez’s side failed to build on that lead despite dominating the rest of the first half. West Ham were transformed after the break, clinching victory through goals from Carlton Cole, Mohamed Diame and Modibo Maiga, and sparking an angry reaction from Chelsea’s fans.
"We have to improve on the pitch and the fans will be happy," Benitez said. "We need to win.
"In the first half we deserved to score more goals. Second half we had one or two chances, but we didn’t do enough.
"It’s about working still."
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce agreed Benitez needs to start winning games to win over the fans, but believes that he has no chance of success if he cannot get their backing. "You can’t do it if the fans are not behind you," said Allardyce.
"The only way you get the fans behind you is win; it’s all you can do. If you’re winning games of football, the fans will always be behind you."
Asked if he had sympathy for his opposite number, the West Ham manager added: "We don’t have sympathy for each other, do we? We compete against each other, we toil against each other, play mind games against each other."
West Ham’s victory came after Andy Carroll, the on-loan Liverpool striker, was ruled out for up to eight weeks with a knee injury. "It (the news of Carroll’s injury) is sweetened by Carlton Cole’s performance," said Allardyce.
"And Maiga scoring, too, because we need him now more than ever to adjust to the Premier League. We’re back in the top half again, which shows how good and determined we are.
"It’s a lateral ligament injury (for Carroll). He’s in a brace.
"He stays with us, yes. We’ve contacted Liverpool.
"They have all the information. They sent a medical representative down when he visited the specialist, who is the same one we use, and there’s a diagnosis for what he has to do.
"Hopefully he will recover as they expect."