"That Abramovich sure is a character, isn't he? Good luck Rafa!"
Chelsea owner/oligarch Roman Abramovich fired manager Roberto Di Matteo in the aftermath of Chelsea's 3-0 beating at the hands of Juventus in Champions League Group E. The loss left Chelsea clinging to faint hopes to advance to the knockout stage (per bbc.co.uk).
City, of course, saw similar hopes quashed after drawing with Real Madrid at the Etihad, as the media fallout from the Di Matteo firing began to ebb (per USA Today).
In one sense, the end of City's Champions League campaign was a freeing development. Mancini and his side now have no alternative but to focus on defending the Premier League title.
New Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez has been afforded no such luxury.
Chelsea's Champions League prospects are dim, but they are not extinguished (per espnfc.com). Can Chelsea beat Nordsjaelland? They probably will; Nordsjaelland has one point from five Group E games. Can Shakhtar Donetsk beat Juventus? That likely depends on how hard Shakhtar Donetsk tries to win the match, since they have already qualified for the knockout stage.
Regardless, Benitez will not be able to treat the match with Nordsjaelland as anything but crucial. Even if Shakhtar Donetsk lays down, Abramovich will doubtless want to see that Benitez is capable of "fixing" Chelsea's European form against Group E's weakest link.
So while Mancini and his players have retrained their focus on the league title, Benitez is tasked both with trying to fashion a miracle advance in the Champions League while simultaneously keeping Chelsea from slipping further in the Premier table.
Chelsea is 0-2-2 in league play since beating Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 at White Hart Lane. That was over a month ago. Chelsea is now four points back of City (and three back of Manchester United) and cannot afford to lose much more ground.
As if Benitez did not have enough to think about, the XI he will field at Stamford Bridge to face the defending league champions will be missing a lot of quality.
Chelsea still poses a serious threat, particularly at home.
But if there ever was a time where City could go to the Bridge and expect to get a result, it must be now, while Benitez is still getting to know his players and acclimating himself to life under the rule of Abramovich.
Mancini could not have drawn the scenario up much better than this. So he will have no excuses if City returns from London empty-handed this time around.