New Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez is reportedly attempting to make Corinthians midfielder Paulinho his first signing for the European champions.

Benitez, who joined the Blues in midweek as interim manager after Roberto Di Matteo's dismissal, has identified a defensive midfielder as a priority ahead of the January transfer window and the Brazil international leads the list of contenders, reports TalkSport.

Paulinho, who can operate as a central midfielder or an anchorman, has been one of the star performers in the Brasileiro this season, with eight goals and three assists from 22 appearances. And with veteran Frank Lampard set to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer, the 24-year-old could become a direct replacement for the England international. The report also claims Benitez wants to pair the Brazilian with his compatriot Ramires in the heart of the Blues' midfield.

Chelsea have been interested in Paulinho for some time now but Corinthians were not willing to sell their most-prized asset. However, with the Brasileiro season coming to an end next month, a sizeable offer could tempt the South American club. Benitez's former employers, Inter Milan, are also keen on Paulinho and had a bid for him turned down earlier this month.

Mancini: Benitez Arrival Makes Match Difficult

Meanwhile, Roberto Mancini feels Manchester City might have a tougher outing at Stamford Bridge this weekend, after the appointment of Benitez as the new Chelsea manager.

Rafael Benitez

"Usually when one team changes a manager the game after for the opponents is very difficult. For us, I think it is more difficult. Chelsea is a good team with Di Matteo and will be a good team for Benitez. They have good players. Until three games ago they played fantastic football and were on the top. To win there could be important for us. They are one of the best teams in England and in Europe," The Sun quoted the Italian as saying.

City go into this game four points clear of Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table.