Rafael Benítez will confront the cluttered festive programme confident he can convince Chelsea's unforgiving support that his appointment as interim first-team manager will benefit the club's challenge this season.
The Spaniard has endured a fractious relationship with the Londoners' fans, a legacy of his days in charge of Liverpool when the ferocious rivalry with José Mourinho's Chelsea was at its peak. Supporters continue to mark the 16th minute of every fixture with a round of applause for the departed Roberto Di Matteo and, although Benítez was not heckled during Sunday's rousing 8-0 thrashing of Aston Villa, he had been booed by the travelling contingent at the Club World Cup in Japan this month.
Yet the recent upturn in form, instigated with an avalanche of goals – there have been 22 in four domestic matches ahead of the Boxing Day trip to Norwich – has served to focus attention on the apparent resurgence of the team. Although true acceptance will always prove elusive, Benítez is hopeful the disgruntled support will come to appreciate the positive effect he is having at the club.
"I said at the beginning and I will say it at the end: my job is to bring the best from the players, try to get results and try to play the best football," he said. "I'm sure the fans will appreciate this. It's just a question of time.
"I think they will realise I am a professional. I will try to do the best for the club and, at the end of the day, that will be the best for them because they will enjoy it. The fans play every game. It's the same for the manager. Not every player plays in every game. But the fans and the manager live every game together."
The rampant dismissal of Villa – the defeat was the heaviest in the visitors' history – confirmed Chelsea have rediscovered their bite having initially struggled to make an attacking impression under the new manager. The goalless draws with Manchester City and Fulham in Benítez's first two games had appeared to reinforce the notion that he is an overly cautious coach, a reputation the Spaniard denies.
"At Liverpool we had the Champions League record win, 8-0 against Besiktas," he said. "And I have always had an attacking mentality throughout my career because I came originally from Real Madrid. I have always tried to find the right balance: a clean sheet and yet still attack and score goals.
"The team and the organisation of the team is important to me. Some people see it as defensive. But I don't. I see it as a way of keeping the organisation of the team, but it's all geared towards being attacking."
Chelsea will bolster their forward ranks next month, particularly with Daniel Sturridge on the verge of completing his move to Liverpool, with Benítez in regular contact with the technical director, Michael Emenalo, and the board over recruitment strategy for the midwinter window.
The stand-in manager is hopeful up to three players can be bought, principal among them a striker but also possibly an attacker to play off a frontman, though there is an acceptance Atlético Madrid will not sell Radamel Falcao mid-season.
The Colombian will remain a long-term target and may be prised away from Atlético in the summer, but alternatives will now be pursued. The European champions could explore the possibility of recruiting David Villa from Barcelona, the 31-year-old having entered the final 18 months of his contract with little prospect of regular first-team football at the Camp Nou, even if the Catalans' director of football, Andoni Zubizarreta, has been quoted saying there is no appetite to allow the Spain forward to leave.
There is interest from Chelsea, too, in the Bayer Leverkusen forward André Schürrle, who came close to moving to Stamford Bridge last summer, and the £7.5m release clause in Demba Ba's contract at Newcastle has also been discussed. "We are working hard to find the right players," said Benítez. "Top sides have top players. It's not easy to find better players than we have at the moment, but we are working to find the right players."
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image: © Tom Cuppens