LONDON: Chelsea announced Wednesday that Rafael Benitez had been appointed their interim first team-manager until the end of the season after the European champions sacked Roberto di Matteo.

Di Matteo was fired after Tuesday's 3-0 defeat by Juventus in Turin left Chelsea facing elimination at the group stage of the Champions League.

But within a matter of hours Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner who has now sacked seven managers since buying the club in 2003, appointed former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, albeit in a caretaker capacity.

“Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season,” said a club statement.

“The owner (Abramovich) and the board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives.”

However, the fact he has joined Chelsea on such a short-term contract is bound to intensify speculation that former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola, currently on a one-year sabbatical from football, is the man Abramovich truly wants to take charge at Stamford Bridge on a full-time basis.

The 52-year-old Benitez is due to meet Chelsea's players at the club's training ground in Cobham, south of London, on Thursday.

Chelsea's statement said the Spaniard, a two-time UEFA Manager of the Year, came with an “outstanding pedigree”.

At Valencia he twice won the Spanish League and the UEFA Cup while his six years at Liverpool yielded an FA Cup and the Merseysiders' fifth European Cup.

Benitez left Liverpool by “mutual consent” in 2010 after the club finished the Premier League season in seventh place, their worst position since 1999.

However, days later, he then took charge of Inter Milan only for his spell in charge of the Italian giants to last just a matter of months.

Benitez, who up until Wednesday had not held a managerial post since leaving the San Siro, quit Inter in December 2010 after calling on the club to back him or sack him in the upcoming January transfer market following the team's FIFA Club World Cup final win over Congolese side Mazembe in Abu Dhabi.

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