Benitez feels the heat as Chelsea slide continues

By Martyn Herman, Reuters

Posted at Dec 02 2012 05:05 PM | Updated as of Dec 03 2012 01:05 AM

LONDON - Chelsea's 3-1 defeat at West Ham United on Saturday proved to be a microcosm of their season as an encouraging start unravelled in alarming fashion.

Interim manager Rafael Benitez was on course for his first victory since taking over from Roberto Di Matteo when Juan Mata gave Chelsea a deserved halftime lead.

But three West Ham goals after the break increased the pressure on the Spaniard, as visiting fans again voiced their disapproval at Chelsea's surprise managerial change.

Benitez has hardly made the impact that Russian owner Roman Abramovich would have expected since Champions League-winning manager Di Matteo was sacked.

Two 0-0 draws -- at home to Manchester City, when he was jeered by Chelsea fans, and Fulham -- were at least evidence that Benitez's famed organisational skills had helped shore up their leaky defence.

But Saturday's second-half capitulation after Carlton Cole's dubious equaliser against his former club left Benitez stunned.

"I think it was a foul (on Branislav Ivanovic for the first goal) but I don't want to use this as an excuse. We conceded the goal and then they were on top," Benitez, the first Chelsea manager since Abramovich bought the club not to win any of his first three matches in charge, told Sky Sports.

"In the second half we were not winning the first ball or the second ball and we didn't have the control we had in the first half.

"When you concede goals it is normally because you have made mistakes. We have to keep working and try to improve."

Chelsea's season had begun brightly under Di Matteo, with new signings Oscar and Eden Hazard helping them to the top of the Premier League with seven wins and a draw from their opening eight games before a controversial defeat by Manchester United.

Since that defeat at the end of October, precious little has gone right. They have gone seven matches without a win in the Premier League and are in danger of becoming the first Champions League holders to exit at the group stage even if they do beat Nordsjaelland on Wednesday.

"We need a win," Benitez said.

"We have to be more clinical. We have good positions and we have to have the quality and confidence. We had situations with two or three players and we have to take our chances.

"The only way to turn it around is to keep working hard in training sessions. We have two games every week and it's not easy. We were a bit better in defence after two clean sheets, and today we conceded three goals but were better in attack.

"We now have a situation in defence that we need to improve."

Benitez said he was not even looking at the league table, despite the slump in form that appears to have left Chelsea's chances of a title challenge in tatters.

"I don't want to think about other teams," said Benitez, whose side could be 10 points behind Manchester United later on Saturday.

"Our next game is in the Champions League, which we will try to win, and then we'll focus on the next one after that. You can't keep looking at the league table every day."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Stephen Wood)