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Chelsea welcome Manchester City to Stamford Bridge for a Premier League game that will mark Rafael Benitez's debut as Blues' manager. The ex-Liverpool manager was appointed to the managerial hotseat at the Bridge after the club fired former interim manager Roberto Di Matteo following a 3-0 defeat in Italy, by defending Serie A champions Juventus. The loss means the reigning European champions are in danger of becoming the first holders to be eliminated at the group stages of the tournament. Expect the pressure to increase exponentially if Roberto Mancini and his Premier League champions walk away with three points.
The good news for the Blues is their visitors are not particularly high on confidence either. Manchester City travel to London after suffering an equally disastrous midweek result; a barely deserved 1-1 home draw against Spanish champions Real Madrid has confirmed their elimination from the group stages of the Champions League for the second straight season.
In the same fixture last season, an Andre Villas-Boas-led Chelsea grabbed a deserved 2-1 win, with goals from Raul Meireles and Frank Lampard trumping a second-minute strike by Mario Balotelli. And in terms of league positions, the Blues have dropped to fourth coming into this match, after Chelsea's former assistant coach Steve Clarke led West Brom to a win at Sunderland and third spot in the league. City, meanwhile, have dropped to second for now, after Manchester United's second-half display against a managerless QPR saw Sir Alex Ferguson's side claim a 3-1 home win. A win for City would take them back to the top of the table.
Where to Watch Live
Kick-off is set for 4pm GMT. Live coverage starts from 3.30pm GMT on Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 1 HD and Sky 3D. Radio commentary is available on BBC Radio 5 live from kick-off.
Were Chelsea wrong to fire Di Matteo after the defeat in Italy? After all, this is the manager who so miraculously turned last season around, leading the Blues to two titles... one of which was the elusive trophy that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich had been pumping millions into the club to win - the UEFA Champions League.
Statistically, the club is in a rather poor run of form. Chelsea have won only once in the last five games - a 3-2 win over Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. And before that win, the club beat United 5-4 in a Capital One Cup tie and then Spurs in a 4-2 away win. Unfortunately, all of that stretches back to October... meaning Chelsea have won only three times since 20 October - a run of nine games - and have lost four times in that period.
While this is alarming enough, what makes it even more worrying is that in the games leading up to the 2-1 away defeat to Donetsk, Chelsea were on a six-game winning streak with 21 goals scored and only four conceded. That run of games included a win at Arsenal and the 6-0 hammering of Wolves in a Capital One Cup game. All of this, perhaps, makes it easier to understand why Di Matteo was fired.
Nevertheless, whether it was the correct decision is a moot point now. After today, Chelsea have a reasonably comfortable-looking list of fixtures, giving Benitez the chance to impress (and push for a permanent position) and the players some breathing room to get their season back on track.
City, on the other hand, have been marginally better, if only domestically. Mancini's side took Aston Villa apart, beating the Midlands club 5-0 at the Etihad. That followed an impressive 2-1 win at home to Spurs, which, in turn, came after a run of three wins in four games.
The problem is that the strong league results have been punctuated by poor displays in Europe. Wins like the 3-0 and 2-1 results against Sunderland and West Brom, respectively, followed by a poor 1-3 defeat at Ajax, make it difficult for any side to maintain momentum. It happened again in midweek, with City's draw against Madrid coming on the back of the wins against Villa and Spurs.
For now, it seems, City occupy a niche... in between the Premier League and the Champions League. They are clearly the dominant club in England but are not quite able to transfer that dominance to European competition. The club are unbeaten since Ajax beat them in Holland and, most importantly, are the only side in England yet to lose a league game this season.
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): L L D W D
- Last Match: Juventus 3 - 0 Chelsea
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): D W W D D
- Last Match: Manchester City 1 - 1 Real Madrid
The English trio of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge will all be unavailable for Rafa Benitez's first game in charge of Chelsea. However, all the focus will be on Spanish international Fernando Torres, who is improbably re-united with his Liverpool coach just as reports of the end of his Chelsea career were gathering momentum. The former Valencia and Inter Milan manager used Torres to great effect during his time at Anfield and his appointment is probably the 28-year-old's last chance to impress in west London.
The good news for Benitez, though, is that those injuries to Terry, Lampard and Cole aside, he has a full-strength squad to choose from.
Czech international goalkeeper Petr Cech will play behind a defensive line of Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole, with the Brazilian and Nigerian midfield partnership of Ramires and John Obi Mikel shielding the defence. Belgian international Eden Hazard, Brazilian Oscar and Spaniard Juan Mata will all start and, as the creative fulcrum of the side, will be expected to unlock City's defensive combinations.
Ideally, it should be Sturridge playing off these three. The young Englishman was shifted to the central position for the latter half of the defeat against West Brom (after Torres was subbed off) and his increased mobility and willingness to run into space and at defenders meant Chelsea were suddenly a more potent side going forward. However, since he is injured, Torres will start and Benitez is sure to have a few words in private before the game.
Probable Line-Up: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Cole; Mikel, Ramires; Hazard, Oscar, Mata; Torres
City come into the game with serious questions over an injury to captain Vincent Kompany. The Belgian was injured during the match against Real Madrid and, though he completed the game, left the stadium on crutches. Worse still, the loss compounds Mancini's defensive problems - right back Micah Richards and left back Gael Clichy are both unavailable for this game, meaning Argentinean Zabaleta may have to play at left back.
The former Lazio boss does have Serbian Aleksandr Kolarov but after his poor display in midweek, he is perhaps unlikely to start this game. England No 1 Joe Hart will have Maicon, Matija Nastasic and the fit-again Joleon Lescott at right-back and in central defence respectively.
Ivory Coast star Yaya Toure is perhaps one of only four automatic picks for Mancini and the midfield dynamo could start with ex-Real Madrid youth product Javi Garcia alongside. Mancini does have Gareth Barry available but Garcia is a more polished and technically proficient option. Up front, City's attack picks itself, particularly with last-season's early scorer, Balotelli, out injured. It will be David Silva, Samir Nasri and Carlos Tevez, playing behind Sergio Aguero.
Probable Line-Up: Hart; Maicon, Nastasic, Lescott, Zabaleta; Y Toure, Garcia; Silva, Nasri, Tevez; Agüero