Given the media storm that has hounded Paolo Di Canio since his at Sunderland on Monday means Chelsea’s involvement in this game will undoubtedly be overshadowed. And that will play nicely into the hands of Rafael Benitez as he bids for a third win in six days that will keep his side motoring on three fronts. After stumbling at Southampton last Saturday the Blues beat Manchester United to reach the FA Cup semi-final and forged a crucial advantage in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final tie with Rubin Kazan. The focus now turns to holding onto their Champions League qualification spot with Arsenal breathing down their necks. With a congested fixture list to contend with Benitez knows each win is crucial but should be confident of easily beating a team struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League table.
Travelling to Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea have won their last five in all competitions, is certainly a baptism of fire for new Black Cats boss Di Canio. The 44-year-old former Swindon boss caught everyone by surprise with his appointment the day after Martin O’Neill’s was dismissed. He has been at the epicentre of a churning media storm ever since with his supposed fascist political beliefs shunted under the microscope. Di Canio eventually brought calm to the storm with a statement on Wednesday stating: “I am not political, I do not affiliate myself to any organisation, I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism, I respect everyone”. Now the attention turns to what he can do for Sunderland on the pitch. Eight games without a win, one point and two places above the drop zone paints a distressing picture for supporters. The hope is Di Canio can provide an injection of spirit to galvanise a squad suffering from a chronic absence of confidence. While tactically he may win awards his capacity to motivate and extract that extra 10 percent is exactly what the club needs right now.
Rafael Benitez has no fresh injury concerns and, after three games in six days and a heavy fixture schedule looming, may opt to stick with his rotation policy meaning Demba Ba and Jon-Obi Mikel could return to the starting lineup.
New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio could be without midfielder David Vaughan (groin) and defender Carlos Cuellar (ankle). Captain Lee Cattermole and leading scorer Steven Fletcher are out for the season.
What the managers said…
“He has 18 goals now, so maybe he doesn’t [get enough credit]. People were saying he hadn’t scored goals but now I’m sure he will score more. Physically he is fine. He will play well and score goals until the end of the season. But we have to think about our options. The problem we have is that Demba Ba can’t play in the Europa League, so we have to manage both. Demba scored the other day too, so it will be a tough decision [on Sunday]. But whatever happens, Torres’s work rate was really good today. It was only ever a question of time. He scored twice, has the confidence now, and hopefully he will carry that into the games to come.” Rafael Benitez believes Fernando Torres willl play a significant role in Chelsea’s run-in (Guardian)
“As a manager it is my first time at the top, I mean the very top level. (We are) away from home against Chelsea, where obviously I have good memories and scored when I was a footballer. But I’m not a footballer now, I’m a manager and now I hope my players will score there and give us some points. It’s fantastic. The players will be motivated on their own; they live to play on the big stage. Obviously we are going to give them extra motivation to try to get a very good result.” Paolo Di Canio says he is relishing that lies ahead of him at Sunderland (Yahoo Eurosport)
Pre-Match Statistic: Out of the 16 Premier League meetings between the two sides Chelsea have won 15.
Prediction: Chelsea 4-1 Sunderland