Controversial manager Paolo Di Canio will take charge of Sunderland for the first time on Sunday, with the struggling Black Cats facing a daunting trip to Stamford Bridge. It has been a turbulent week for the 44-year-old Italian, whose appointment in the North East has been met with widespread disbelief and outrage across several areas of the media, various charitable organisations and in the local community.
Di Canio’s past links to fascism (which he has since renounced) have been the source of the furore that erupted this week following his arrival on Wearside on Sunday evening. Di Canio had been immediately installed as the bookies favourite and was officially announced just over 24 hours after former boss Martin O’Neill was relieved of his duties following the 1-0 defeat to Manchester United at the Stadium of Light.
And with his new team hovering just one solitary point above the Premier League’s dreaded bottom three, Di Canio will be keen for those persistent off-field distractions to swiftly vanish, so he can focus on keeping the club in the top flight. In the opposite dugout, Chelsea’s interim boss Rafael Benitez certainly knows all about unpopular appointments. The Spaniard has been barracked relentlessly since taking the reins in November 2012, following the departure of club legend Roberto Di Matteo. However, in spite of that persistent and routinely unpleasant criticism, the Blues remain on course for two trophies and currently have the upper-hand on London rivals Arsenal for the fourth and final Champions League spot.
KICK-OFF: Sunday, 3pm
PAST THREE MEETINGS…
Sunderland 1 (Johnson) Chelsea 3 (Torres, Mata), Premier League, December 2012
Chelsea 1 (Lampard) Sunderland 0, Premier League, January 2012
Sunderland 1 (Ji) Chelsea 2 (Terry, Sturridge), Premier League, September 2011
Despite appearing to struggle when asked to spearhead the attack, Fernando Torres is Chelsea’s leading marksman this season with 19 goals in all competitions.
Chelsea and Sunderland have met 111 times in League competition. Chelsea have emerged victorious on 55 occasions, Sunderland have won 36, while 20 of those matches have been drawn.
Paolo Di Canio has taken charge of 95 games in football management, winning 54 of them. This gives him a win percentage of 57%.
Sunderland have scored a paltry 33 goals in the Premier League this season, three less than bottom-placed Reading.
Chelsea to win: 1.3
Sunderland win: 12.0
One of Chelsea fans’ best memories of fixtures against Sunderland is Gus Poyet’s superbly executed volley at Stamford Bridge in a thumping 4-0 victory in August 1999. The Uruguayan, now in charge of Championship playoff contenders Brighton, latched onto a sumptuous chip from Gianfranco Zola and expertly dispatched a scissor-kick volley past the helpless Thomas Sorensen.
TV: Highlights on BBC1 at 10.25pm.