LONDON (AP) -Chelsea has hired Rafa Benitez as interim manager until the end of the season, only hours after firing Roberto Di Matteo following the club's dip in form in the Premier League and Champions League title defense.

The 52-year-old Benitez becomes the ninth manager under Chelsea's Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, who displayed his trademark ruthlessness by sacking Di Matteo only six months after the Italian guided the London club to its first European Cup after he had also captured the FA Cup title.

The European champions say in a statement that Benitez is a "manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives.''

Benitez won the 2005 Champions League with Liverpool. He has also previously coached Valencia and Inter Milan.

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