Premier League preview: Chelsea v Sunderland
By Football News
Paulo Di Canio takes charge of his first Premier League match when Sunderland travel to face Chelsea on Saturday.
The Italian's appointment at Sunderland on Sunday sent shockwaves through the league and stunned supporters of the north east club, many of whom vehemently oppose his reportedly fascist political leanings.
But it is what his side achieve on the pitch in the final seven games to avoid relegation that will define Di Canio's status among fans.
Relegation would be a monumental disaster and the naysayers would be validated by what is seen by some as a rash appointment.
Di Canio has managed at League Two and League One level with Swindon Town, and despite his impressive 57 percent win rate, he is yet to prove himself at the highest level.
And while Martin O'Neill led a largely sterile side devoid of attacking intent before his sacking, Di Canio's appointment is still seen by many as a huge gamble.
Without leading scorer Steven Fletcher, Sunderland will have a task on their hands but Di Canio may just be the man to provide the necessary shake up with his new side just a point above safety with seven games to play.
Meanwhile, Chelsea's form in the two cups - Europa and FA Cup - has been solid yet it is their performances under Benitez in the Premier League that are rather more curious.
With the Spaniard already told he will be not given a new contract for next season, Benitez appears to have his eyes on cup glory, a notion supported by the seven changes he made before limping to a 2-1 defeat at Southampton last Saturday.
Fernando Torres returned to form on Thursday with a brace in Chelsea's first-leg win over Rubin Kazan in the Europa League quarter-finals, but in the league Demba Ba has been largely preferred in the lone striker's role.
The Blues will be hurting after last week's defeat to Southampton and cannot afford to rest on their laurels if they want to remain in the top four, with both Arsenal and Everton breathing down their necks.
Left-back Ashley Cole (hamstring) played no part on Thursday and is likely to miss while Gary Cahill (knee) is another fortnight away.