Former Chelsea and Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez looks to have proven the haters wrong at Real Madrid, turning an unconvincing start to the campaign into a string of five consecutive wins. This means the Spaniard has had a better start to his Real Madrid tenure than both Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho managed.
Benitez was put under scrutiny by many in Spain from the moment he got through the Santiago Bernabeu door. Pundits and fans alike questioned his defensive approach to the game, and decisions such as refusing to keep Cristiano Ronaldo as the leader of the team and yielding to Gareth Bale's requests to play in the number 10 role were also criticised.
A slow pre-season, a spat with Ronaldo during a training session, the David de Gea transfer saga and a goalless draw against newly promoted Sporting Gijon in the La Liga opener gave the critics extra ammunition.
Benitez, however, has turned the situation around with five consecutive victories, while many of his decisions have been vindicated. Bale, currently injured, gave an impressive performance in the 6-0 victory over Espanyol, with Ronaldo scoring five goals. Keylor Navas has closed the debate over De Gea after conceding just one goal in the first six games of the campaign. Meanwhile Karim Benzema has started the season in the best form of his career – scoring six goals in five games.
The Spanish press have noticed this, praising Benitez's performances after Real Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 to go top of La Liga.
AS points out that his start has been better than the ones of Ancelotti and Mourinho during his debut campaigns – when the Italian ended with the Champions League and the Copa del Rey titles while the Portuguese maverick secured the cup.
Benitez's side are currently leading La Liga with four victories and one draw from the first five La Liga games, having conceded only one goal while netting 14. They also opened their Champions League account with a 4-0 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk.
In his first campaign with Real Madrid, Mourinho had overseen two draws after five La Liga games with just eight scored and also one conceded. Ancelotti, meanwhile, had the same points tally, but while his Real Madrid bagged the same number in attack they leaked six at the back.
Marca commented: "Some 114 days down the line and the former Napoli coach has convinced even the most fervent of sceptics. It is plain to see that Benítez has left his mark on this Real Madrid side. Their defending has improved, and this team find the back of the net at will. Benítez really has hit the bullseye."