Chelsea host Sunderland this Sunday in what may prove to be one of the more intriguing spectacles across the Premier League.
The match pits a continually under-fire Rafa Benitez against the controversial, newly appointed Paolo Di Canio—which should be compelling viewing on its own.
Chelsea will be hoping to stabilise their quest for the Champions League after a blip at Southampton, while Sunderland will be looking for a result to help stave off the growing threat of relegation.
Form and Previous Meetings
Chelsea boast an incredible, almost flawless, record against Sunderland in recent years, with the only blemish being a shock 3-0 home defeat back in 2010.
Other than that it's been 15 wins from the last 16 meetings.
Amid a congested schedule, Chelsea's domestic form has began to suffer as of late. The Blues have three wins, three losses and a draw from their last seven games, equating to a mediocre 10 points from a possible 21.
Sunderland sacked Martin O'Neill after enduring a winless streak of eight games that saw the Black Cats muster a meager three points from a possible 24. Di Canio comes in and is charged with securing a first Premier League win since January.
Team News and Key Players
Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill have both picked up recent injuries for Chelsea and are expected to miss this game, joining long-term absentee Oriol Romeu on the sidelines.
Without their primary goalscorer, Fletcher, Sunderland may have to rely on a rearguard effort to come away with anything from Stamford Bridge. For that reason, Simon Mignolet—who has enjoyed a consistent season amid the general gloom—will need to be in inspiring form once again.
Chelsea have a semi-rested Eden Hazard to call upon who should be chomping at the bit to start. The Belgian was a substitute in midweek and has been producing his very best form in recent weeks.
Potential Starting Lineups
Considering the circumstances of a new manager at the helm and a team determined to rotate their squad through a flurry of games, this is perhaps the weekend's hardest selections to predict.
For Chelsea, it would make sense for those rested against Rubin Kazan to return to the lineup, which means starts for Oscar, Mikel, Hazard and Ivanovic.
Up front, as usual Benitez must opt for either Torres or Demba Ba. Most would favour the Senegalese striker getting the nod here, but perhaps the Spaniard's brace in midweek and a double in this pair's last clash may sway the vote his way.
For Sunderland, Di Canio hasn't had long enough at the club to install dramatic changes, so it seems unlucky his final XI will greatly differ from those selected against Manchester United.
Gardner could feasibly return to right-back, allowing Jack Colback or Larsson to feature in midfield, while Connor Wickham will be pushing Graham for a start up front.