As Rafa Benitez prepares to face Chelsea for the first time since his interim managerial spell, we look at his record at Stamford Bridge, his relationship with Antonio Conte and what is in store for him on Saturday, live on Sky Sports.
Chelsea under Rafa
It was a busy seven months for Benitez at Chelsea, coming in to replace the departing Roberto Di Matteo on November 21, 2012, and remaining until the end of the season.
Saturday’s visit with Newcastle marks his first meeting with the Blues since he left in May 2013, where he won 28 of his 48 matches in charge across all competitions, giving him a win rate of 58.3 per cent.
The crowning glory of his tenure was victory in the Europa League final, with Chelsea beating Benfica 2-1 in Amsterdam to lift the trophy. For 10 days, the Blues held the Europa League and Champions League titles simultaneously.
He also guided the Blues to the League Cup semi-finals, where they were beaten by eventual winners Swansea, and the FA Cup semi-finals, with Manchester City knocking them out.
In terms of the Premier League, there was progress from the 2011/12 campaign with Benitez leading Chelsea to a third-place finish – an improvement on 6th from the previous season – but they did end up 14 points behind eventual winners Manchester United after being just four points off the top when Benitez came in.
Chelsea vs Newcastle
December 2, 2017, 11:30am
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He had a 57.7 per cent win rate in the league as Chelsea manager, winning 15 of his 26 games in charge with six draws and five losses.
Rafa as a visitor
Saturday’s game will mark a new era for Benitez, having only ever visited Stamford Bridge with Liverpool in previous years, and it hasn’t been a very happy hunting ground for the Spaniard.
He won on just one of his 12 visits to west London, with the Reds failing to score in nine of those trips. Six of these games came in the Premier League – where his sole victory also occurred in October 2008 – with one draw and four losses.
Newcastle have also won just one of their last 23 Premier League visits to Stamford Bridge and if you go further into the past, the Magpies have been victorious in just two of their last 44 top division visits to Chelsea, dating back to 1954.
Rafa v Conte
These two have gone up against each other previously, when Benitez was at Napoli and Antonio Conte managed Juventus, with a one-season crossover in the 2013/14 season leading to one win apiece in Serie A.
But they were not the best of friends, exchanging a few barbs over the spending of their respective clubs at the time, with Conte telling his counterpart at one point: “People need to get their facts right and not spread misleading messages. I hope Benitez will check his calculations.”
Speaking about the friction between the two at the time, Sky Sports Spanish football expert Guillem Balague said: “I can’t remember who started it, but there was an exchange of words on at least a couple of occasions during the season they were together in Serie A.
“I remember Rafa saying if Juventus don’t win the league, then it will be a failure and Conte replied with ‘well what is he talking about, because Napoli have spent a lot of money and we haven’t spent that much.’
“Rafa had lost Edinson Cavani [to PSG] but they still had Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon. Conte said that Napoli had the best squad in the league so it should be them who were winning.
West Brom 2-2 Newcastle
“Another clash was around November when they were going to play each other. Rafa said something like Napoli are at 75 per cent and Conte replied that Juventus were 100 per cent if Napoli are at 75 per cent, questioning what Rafa had been doing in the previous three months.”
Upon his return?
As already mentioned, neither Benitez or Newcastle had a sparkling record at Stamford Bridge, with the Magpies failing to win in their last five Premier League outings, although they did fight back to a 2-2 draw with West Brom on Tuesday evening.
Antonio Conte was sent to the stands during Chelsea's midweek game against Swansea
Chelsea, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last six league outings, although they ground out their 1-0 win against Swansea on Wednesday and there could be a wait for the touchline reunion of Benitez and Conte, with the latter being sent to the stands and the consequences yet to be decided.
Benitez will be no stranger to either dugout at Stamford Bridge but he did not quite manage to win the fans over when he was in charge, so the reception he will get remains to be seen. What is for sure is that he will need his Newcastle side to produce their best performance of the season so far to upset his former team.