The Lead

Playing the role of public enemy number one  following the dismissal of Roberto Di Matteo finally got to Rafa. While Chelsea defeated Middlesbrough at Riverside to advance to the FA Cup Quarterfinals and set up a date with Manchester United, the post-game chatter centered on one of the most truthful, non bs laden press conferences in years.

“I have a title. Someone decided the title would be ‘interim’. Why? Just in case? If they want to blame me for everything that is wrong and then they say, ‘We will put interim just in case’, fine, that is your decision. I don’t agree but it’s your decision and now everybody has to take responsibility. If we are in the Champions League, I will be the happiest man in the world. But I will leave anyway because I have finished my contract, so they [his critics] don’t need to be worried about me. What they have to do is concentrate on supporting the team.”

Pretty straightforward, and most importantly, factually correct. Nobody believes Rafa will stay on following the culmination of a turbulent campaign that saw the knives unsheathed at Stamford Bridge immediately upon his hiring.

The only question left to be answered is whether Benítez will survive the year. Chelsea officials insisted it was ‘business as usual’ today when the squad took to the training pitch in preparation for Saturday’s clash with West Bromwich Albion.

Over at ESPN FC Miguel Delaney wrote perhaps the best synopsis of the soliloquy that rocked West London. This embarrassing situation will end one of two ways. Rafa will be sacked in a matter of days, ruining his chances of getting the stable, high profile gig he so desperately craves. Or, with all of the inoffensive, cliched jargon no longer being passed off as ‘real talk’, catharsis will take over. The club will play up to their potential and capture a trophy and a place in the top four.

What about the fans. A faction of Chelsea supporters refuse to move past comments made by Benítez years ago during his tenure at Liverpool. There is no saving them. For the rational supporters, the blame has started to fall at the feet of the man who gave Chelsea everything. Roman Abramovich created this mess with rash decision making that threw caution to the wind. To be fair, it was that style of ownership that brought unprecedented success to Stamford Bridge. ‘Who do you need? I’ll get him’ and so forth.

Will Benítez emerge from the 2012/13 season with a trophy in hand and a middle finger raised to his detractors? I’m rooting for him.

Canada

Preview to the 2013 Toronto FC season.

England

Former United player says team can win against Madrid even without RVP.

West Ham’s Nolan could miss the rest of the season after breaking foot.

Spurs reject Anzhi offer for Younes Kaboul.

Italy

Inter won’t sign Carew after player failed club’s fitness test.

“More Bundesliga than the Premier League. I love German football, their modern stadiums are always full.” -Marchisio discusses his future.

La Liga

Atletico Madrid’s Tiago sidelined after breaking his arm.

Di Maria suspended, won’t play in weekend match against Barcelona.

Germany

Dortmund’s sporting director confirms Lewandowski exit.

An analysis of yesterday’s DFB Pokal quarterfinal between BVB and Bayern.

Schalke lose appeal, Drogba eligible to play in CL.

Bit and Bobs

A look at the Bangladeshi Premier League, a growing hot spot for African players.

Barton points to Ibrahimovic’s big nose during match, but PSG player has the last laugh.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.