The rivalry between Liverpool and Chelsea has faded significantly in recent years, partly because the two teams are no longer regularly competing with each other for the highest honours, and partly because Mourinho and Benitez were no longer the managers at the two clubs. The move by Chelsea to appoint Benitez yesterday will no doubt stir up many of the old emotions between the two clubs, with Chelsea fans defiant at the appointment.
Benitez is an unpopular figure at Stamford Bridge for several reasons, and the feelings of the fans were made clear when they chanted against his potential appointment when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked earlier in the year. This time the manager he is replacing is Roberto Di Matteo, a Chelsea legend as a player and also as a manager, despite his short reign in charge at the club.
Di Matteo won Chelsea the Champions League, and it is that competition where Benitez and Chelsea have had their biggest confrontations. From the 2004-5 season onwards, they met four times in the knockout stages in five years, with the three semi-final clashes living longest in the memory.
The first was the perhaps the most controversial, with Benitez's Liverpool winning 1-0 over the two legs thanks to the infamous Luis Garcia "ghost goal". Liverpool also got the better of Chelsea in the next semi-final they met in, winning on penalties after a 1-1 draw on aggregate. Chelsea won the third semi-final in 2008, with Avram Grant steering the Blues past Liverpool en route to the final against Manchester United.
There were other clashes too, regularly in the league and also in the final of the League Cup, where Mourinho won his first trophy in England. This period was perhaps the most successful in both sides recent history, so it was natural they clashed on important occasion with regularity. Benitez's sour relationship with Mourinho, a hero amongst the Chelsea fans, added to the conflict, and made him a figure of hate at Stamford Bridge.
Benitez himself contributed directly to the ill-feeling, with inflammatory press conferences that cited money as the only reason for Mourinho's success, and a quote that is emblazoned on the walls of Liverpool's training centre:
"We don`t need to give away stupid plastic flags to our fans to wave, our supporters are always there with their hearts and that is all we need. It`s the passion of the fans that helps us to win matches, not flags."
The quote from Benitez came after a Champions League semi-final where Chelsea had left flags on supporter's seats. It was during an unbelievably charged few years when the rivalry between the two clubs was at its zenith, and it is undoubtedly a different situation now, but Chelsea fans will no doubt make their displeasure heard on Sunday. Benitez will have a hard time erasing so much history from their minds.
He attempted to brush it off in last night's press conference, describing it as 'simply fighting talk' for the club he was managing at the time, Liverpool. Will that cut the ice with Chelsea fans? You tell us...
Will Chelsea fans accept Rafa Benitez at Stamford Bridge?
image: © Tom Cuppens