The Blues face Sunderland in the Barclays Premier League on Sunday, where much of the attention will be on Paolo Di Canio’s debut as Sunderland manager and their bid for survival. The impact of relegation would be marked on the Black Cats, who replaced Martin O’Neill with Di Canio, but the consequences if Chelsea miss out on a top-four place and Champions League qualification are unthinkable for those at Stamford Bridge. Rafael Benitez was appointed interim boss after Roberto Di Matteo’s side became the first holders to exit the Champions League at the group stages. Benitez has steered the Blues into the FA Cup semi-finals and a commanding Europa League quarter-final first-leg lead in the space of four days and captain John Terry has urged the Spaniard to turn his focus to the Premier League.
Mata eyes success on three fronts Juan Mata hopes Chelsea can savour success on three fronts at the end of a tumultuous season.
Mata is greedy for the Blues to achieve all three targets. He said:
“Our objective for the season is to win these two titles and to get into the Champions League. That is very important. We still have a lot to play for this year. “Winning a title this year could be very important, but Chelsea is a club that deserves to be in the Champions League every year and obviously it is our primary objective every season to be in the top four. “The ideal thing would be to do the little double and get into the Champions League. “Why can’t we do that? We know it is difficult. We are still alive in the Europa League (after beating Rubin Kazan 3-1 on Thursday night), we are in the semis of the FA Cup and in the league we are in a Champions League position. We can do it, and we believe we can do it.”
Chelsea striker Demba Ba is set to return up front in place of Fernando Torres. Ba, scorer of Monday’s FA Cup winner against Manchester United, was cup-tied for Thursday night’s Europa League triumph, when Torres scored twice, but is poised to be restored as Rafael Benitez rotates his squad for the Blues’ fourth match in nine days. Ashley Cole (hamstring) and his fellow England defender Gary Cahill (knee) remain out alongside long-term absentee Oriol Romeu (knee).
Sunderland winger Adam Johnson has backed Di Canio to unlock a fresh belief in the relegation-threatened club. The Black Cats are currently only one point clear of the drop zone with seven games remaining, including tough fixtures against rivals Newcastle at St James’ Park, Everton at the Stadium of Light and a difficult encounter against
Tottenham on the last day of the season. However, Johnson, who has struggled to recapture his best form this season, believes the former Swindon manager could be the perfect tonic to Sunderland’s on-field problems after their continued poor form has seen them winless in their last eight games. “He’s a confident manager and wants to make his players feel like they’re the best players in the world,”
Johnson told safc.com:
“I think he’s going to get the best out of the lads. He demands your best and we will have to work hard. “When players are full of confidence they’re going to play well, so hopefully we can take that into Sunday because it’s a tough game and a big game.” D
i Canio has injury doubts over midfielder David Vaughan (groin) and defender Carlos Cuellar (ankle). Captain Lee Cattermole (knee surgery) and striker Steven Fletcher (ankle ligaments) will both miss the rest of the season but there is some hope for long-term absentee Wes Brown (knee), who is continuing to train without suffering a relapse.
Projected Lineups :
Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Bertrand
Hazard, Oscar, Mata
Gardner, O’Shea, Bramble, Rose
Johnson, N’Diaye, Larsson, McClean
Key Stats :
- Chelsea have the joint-second best goalscoring record in the Premier League this season alongside Liverpool and Arsenal with 59 goals each. Only Manchester United (70) have netted more.
- Blues playmaker Juan Mata is the club’s leading scorer in all competitions so far this season with 18 goals. The Spaniard is 9/2 with bet365 to score first in this game.
- Sunderland have only taken two points from their last six league matches – a 2-2 draw against Fulham and a 1-1 draw against Norwich.
- Paolo Di Canio was named 2012’s LMA League Two Manager of the Year during his spell in charge of Swindon Town.
- Chelsea won the earlier meeting in the season between the two sides 3-1. A brace from Fernando Torres and a goal from Mata put them into a three-goal lead, before Adam Johnson scored.
- Black Cats midfielder Craig Gardner has received the joint-most yellow cards in the league so far this season alongside Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Aston Villa’s Matthew Lowton. All three players have been booked nine times.
Chelsea need a win to stay in 4th and possibly move into 3rd (depending on Spurs’ result against Everton). Sunderland’s new manager Paolo Di Canio has been under much scrutiny because of his fascist beliefs, other than that, Di Canio has been praised for his success at Swindon Town. Nonetheless, 3-1 Chelsea.