"The main thing for me is to improve the team. I don't think about anything else" ... Chelsea interim coach Rafa Benitez. Photo: Reuters
THREE matches into his reign as Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez is, quite rightly, being asked if he can survive the season. Such is the craziness of the club he has joined that he can't say yes.
''No, I am not 100 per cent,'' Benitez said after his side were stunned 3-1 by West Ham, ''but we didn't win today.'' He couldn't say anything else. Every move he makes is met with scalding hot derision from the Chelsea supporters. Team selection, tactical changes, substitutions - even tie selection (although he wore blue this time). The only cry that goes up - the only cry that is repeatable anyway - is, ''You don't know what you're doing.''
For all of his tactical acumen, his impressive CV, the wholly understandable reasons he took the post, albeit on a temporary basis following the irrational sacking of Roberto Di Matteo, Benitez is in danger of drowning here in a sea of bile and invective.
Sam Allardyce picked up on it. You can't survive, he said, if the fans don't want you. No way. ''The only way you can get the fans behind you is to win,'' the West Ham manager said. ''You have to win. It's all you can do.''
Benitez concurred. Asked again whether he feared for his job, he said: ''The main thing for me is to improve the team. I don't think about anything else.''
Fernando Torres might be going down with Benitez. Finally the focus has fallen more sharply on the striker whose career at Chelsea has been wretched, disruptive and appears doomed to failure. His refusal, as a £45 million ($69 million) asset, to take responsibility is grating. His body language is of a man who would rather be anywhere else in the world than straitjacketed in a Chelsea shirt.
It's more than 12 hours of play now for him without a Premier League goal; it's seven matches for Chelsea without a victory. November is traditionally the month when they struggle but they are taking those troubles into December.
Dwelling on Chelsea's troubles might be doing a disservice to West Ham, who produced a rousing second-half comeback. ''It was all about belief and desire,'' Allardyce said. ''We continued until they cracked.''
And crack Chelsea did. The sight of Ashley Cole gifting West Ham the final goal was incredible. The way in which both central defenders were pummelled by Carlton Cole - playing after it was confirmed Andy Carroll will be out for up to eight weeks - was equally so.
Having made much play of the defensive organisation and two clean sheets that Benitez claimed he had brought to Chelsea before Saturday then this was a sorry capitulation in a London derby.
Three matches, two points, no wins, one goal scored and three conceded for Benitez. He likes his stats but that makes brutal reading for the European champions who spent £80 million in the off-season.
And yet it should have been so different. A game of two halves? You bet. Chelsea were rampant, guided superbly by Juan Mata, who scored in an opening 45 minutes they utterly dominated. The impetus changed with the half-time introduction of Mohamed Diame and Matt Taylor as West Ham pushed up, played with width and applied pressure. Chelsea had no answers.