Benitez has been appointed “interim first team manager” until the end of the season, after flying in from Abu Dhabi yesterday to tie up the shock move, and will meet the squad for the first time this morning.
Blues owner Roman Abramovich had Di Matteo, who won the FA Cup and a historic Champions League in his eight months in charge, fired in the early hours after Tuesday’s defeat in Juventus marked a new low point in their season.
“The owner 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,” Chelsea said.
Abramovich wants former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola to take charge long term, but he has refused to consider any jobs until the summer, when Chelsea will make fresh attempts to lure him.
Benitez has been out of management since Inter Milan cut short his six-month tenure in December 2010, having spent six years at Liverpool, where he won the Champions League in 2005. The former Valencia coach is widely unpopular among Chelsea supporters, having been in charge of the Reds during a period of intense rivalry between them and the west Londoners.
Liverpool dispensed with Benitez after four barren seasons culminated in a seventh-place finish in the Premier League, while Inter sacked him following a disappointing start to the season. He recruited Fernando Torres to Anfield, and Abramovich will hope that reuniting the pair will help Chelsea’s record £50m signing rediscover the blistering form he showed on Merseyside. Torres has flattered to deceive since arriving at Stamford Bridge almost two years ago, and has managed just one goal in his last eight games, prompting Di Matteo to drop him against Juventus.
Chelsea hope to ease the burden on the 28-year-old by taking their former talisman Drogba on loan next month from Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua, six months after letting him leave for free. The 34-year-old is available in December, following the end of the Chinese Super League and before the Africa Cup of Nations, and has applied to world governing body Fifa for special dispensation to move outside the transfer window.
Chelsea have fallen four points behind leaders Manchester City, who they face on Sunday. In Europe they must beat Nordsjaelland in their final group match and hope Juventus lose at Shakhtar in order to avoid becoming the first holders to be eliminated at the group stage.