Benitez favourite to take over from Pulis at Stoke
Manager Tony Pulis has left Stoke after seven years in charge, the Premier League club announced.
His departure, by mutual consent, was widely anticipated following his talks on Tuesday with Stoke chairman Peter Coates.
Contenders to succeed him are Italian Roberto Di Matteo, Frenchman Gus Poyet and early bookmakers favourite Rafael Benitez, the outgoing Chelsea interim manager.
Pulis - following the retirement of Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson and the decision by Everton's David Moyes to replace him at Old Trafford - was the second-longest serving manager in the country and leaves Stoke in a far better position than he found them. Arsenal's Arsene Wenger is now the longest-serving manager in England, having guided the club for almost 17 years.
The 55-year-old Pulis was appointed Stoke boss for a second spell in 2006, and under his watch the club gained promotion to the Premier League in 2008 after a 23-year absence.
He led them to their first FA Cup final, losing to Manchester City by a single goal in 2011, and as a result their first Europa League campaign.
The news of his departure was greeted with surprise by Stoke winger Matt Etherington, who said: "I've spoken to a few of the other boys and they're shocked as well, it's hit us.
"Fans were grumbling saying they wanted him out or wanted a change, and it looks like they have got their wish. You have to be careful what you wish for in football sometimes.
"Hopefully we'll get someone in who will push us on and make us into a top-10 team.
"If you look at where Stoke were when he first came in - mid-table in the Championship - you can't argue he's done a fantastic job."
However, a poor run in the second half of this season - during which they won just three of their last 19 league matches and briefly diced with relegation - saw them finish with their lowest Premier League points tally.