Roberto v Rafa: Battle at The Bridge

Chelsea's manager Raf Benitez
Chelsea's manager Raf Benitez

TOMORROW will see something of a Spanish Civil War in the technical area as Roberto Martinez comes face to face with countryman Rafa Benitez.

Latics have never won at Stamford Bridge in the league, but they’ll arguably never have a better chance with the European champions on the crest of a slump at the minute.

Already this year Chelsea have lost to struggling QPR and Newcastle and been held by Southampton and Reading, as well as being dumped out of the Capital One Cup by Swansea and face an FA Cup fourth-round replay next week against League One Brentford.

A sizeable proportion of the natives, already unhappy at seeing Roberto di Matteo given the boot, haven’t taken to Benitez from the start, with recent results only exacerbating their displeasure.

But the Wigan boss has warned of the dangers of taking the Blues lightly ahead of a crucial clash for both sides.

“The unity in a football club is important,” Martinez acknowledged.

“That’s always a challenge, and it happens to players as well.

“You go through a bad period, you miss two open goals, all of a sudden the crowd is against you – then you have to win them back.

“I think it’s the same for any other position at the football club, the manager included.

“There are moments at the football club that, for whatever reason, people are frustrated and you need to get results. But two wins puts everything fine again.

“That’s probably the price of being at a club with huge expectations, with an incredible group of players, and a good investment after winning the Champions League.

“I don’t think that’s something strange or something that surprises anyone.

“I have seen the games of Chelsea, and I must admit I would not be able to explain from a footballing point of view how they lost points because they have been the better side and have dominated games.

“Sometimes you forget luck plays a big part in results. But if you carry on playing in that manner, with those players, the results are going to come.

“That’s why if I could have chosen, I would not have chosen to play Chelsea this weekend, because I know they need to get a positive result.”

Chelsea’s recent slump has seen them all-but fall out of the title picture, but Martinez isn’t reading too much into that.

“They will be focused and we won’t be able to catch them off guard,” he insisted.

“The way that they are now, they are desperate to get a positive result and that means they are very difficult to play against.

“We’re going to guard against that and make sure we learn from our experience last season.

“The way we played last season is what you need as the minimum to get a positive result at Stamford Bridge.

“We were very, very unfortunate not to get a positive result. But I think that performance allowed us to understand that if we were capable of reaching that level away from home, we would be able to get good wins against top sides – and we did that.

“Everything started at Stamford Bridge for us.”

Martinez also pointed to the treatment of Chelsea managers during the past decade as proof that the burden of expectation is not exclusive to Benitez.

“You look back to Jose Mourinho when he left Chelsea and lost his job after being the most successful manager that the club has ever had,” he added.

“There are always cases – Roberto di Matteo lost his job five months after winning the Champions League.

“What Rafa is living now at Chelsea is not a unique case. You’re looking at the history of the managers at the football club and they’ve all been in the same situation.

“Luiz Felipe Scolari, the manager of Brazil, has experienced that. Carlo Ancelotti was also an incredible success at Chelsea and he didn’t have that longevity.

“In football the relationship between the manager and the owner is what counts.

“The basis is established when you meet for the first time and, as long as you know where you stand, no manager is going to have a problem with that.

“In this job you know you need to win games – but some clubs have a long-term strategy and they want to develop the football club inside out, and others just want to win at the weekend.

“As a manager ,as long as you know that at the start of the season you’re okay with it.

“Looking from the outside, it seems to me that the Chelsea manager needs to win on a regular basis and that’s a condition of the job. I don’t think it’s a real shock for any manager that takes that job.”