Preview: Tough Start For New Man Di Canio

Ian MacNicol

Paolo Di Canio makes his bow as Sunderland manager in a very tough clash at Champions League contenders Chelsea. Can he make an instant impact? We've got all the team news and more right here in our preview...

Sunderland Team News

Whilst Paolo Di Canio has admitted he's a ‘4-4-2 man' he's also hinted that the system is unlikely to be changed just yet, indicating that Stephane Sessegnon will support lone striker Danny Graham in attack.

Phil Bardsley made his return to the first team in the defeat to Manchester United, and Di Canio could turn to him, preferring to play Craig Gardner in midfield as Martin O'Neill did last Saturday.

Having praised the wide players he has at his disposal, Di Canio has a decision to make between Adam Johnson, Seb Larsson and James McClean for the starting places on the flanks.

Chelsea Team News

Rafa Benitez has defensive concerns after Ashley Cole limped out of the FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday. The England left-back joins Gary Cahill on the sidelines, but the former's absence gives Ryan Bertrand another starting opportunity.

Having rotated his main striker in the past, Demba Ba may be recalled, but Fernando Torres' two-goal showing against Rubin Kazan may preserve his place in the team.

Oscar, Eden Hazard and John Obi Mikel were all omitted from the starting line-up on Thursday, and are expected to be recalled.

Predicted Lineups

Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O'Shea, Bramble, Rose; Larsson, Gardner, N'Diaye, Johnson; Sessegnon; Graham

Chelsea: Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Bertrand; Ramires, Mikel; Hazard, Mata, Oscar; Torres

Key Matchup: Craig Gardner Vs Juan Mata

Whilst the make-up of Sunderland's central midfield is unclear, largely down to an inability of those deployed there to cement a starting place, what is more certain is that the same area is Chelsea's stronghold. Within its midfield composition, Chelsea usually supplements the athleticism of Ramires with the trickery and creativity of Eden Hazard and Juan Mata. Whoever Di Canio picks in central midfield must keep an eye on the latter.

Recent Form: WLWWL

Win: Chelsea 4-1 Wigan Athletic (Ramires 23, Hazard 56, Lampard 86, Marin 90; Maloney 58)

Loss: Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea (Toure 63, Tevez 85)

Win: Chelsea 1-0 West Bromwich Albion (Ba 28)

Win: Chelsea 2-0 West Ham United (Lampard 19, Hazard 50)

Loss: Southampton 2-1 Chelsea (Rodriguez 23, Lambert 35; Terry 33)

Last Time Around: Chelsea 1-0 Sunderland, 14/01/12

An early Frank Lampard goal was, surprisingly, the only goal in this fixture last season as Sunderland failed to take advantage of a number of goal-scoring chances.

Lampard's strike was fortuitous in that the ball struck his knee following Fernando Torres' shot hitting the crossbar, whilst little luck was to aid the visitors as they toiled in front of goal - both Craig Gardner and Nicklas Bendtner missing late chances to salvage a point.

The Ref: Neil Swarbick

Lancashire-based Swarbick has been a shining light for Sunderland so far - each of the games he officiated at the Stadium of Light this season ended in 3-0 home wins. Having recently made it to Premier League level, here's hoping he sticks around for some time.

What The Managers Said

Paolo Di Canio:

We have had our injuries and that is a disappointment. On our first day, we were only 13 players - 11 players.

But that is not an issue; we have 16 players currently and that is enough for me to go somewhere and get a result.

Here at Sunderland, we have to score goals.

We can't look to defend and just hope that we score a goal, score the one goal, and then defend all game.

Rafa Benitez:

I think we are doing a great job. Why? Because you can see the team has more balance, has a lot of young players who are learning and progressing in a ­transitional period.

We're pleased with the evolution of the team but you want to win and finish in the top four to confirm all these things.

Roker Report Predicts

Firstly, a much-needed response from a Sunderland team that has looked resigned to defeats of late. Whether Di Canio's arrival can spur a reaction similar to Martin O'Neill's arrival in unclear as yet, and given the run of games the Italian faces such would be unlikely, but Sunday's game marks the first of seven games that Sunderland simply need points from. Chelsea are in form, and provide arguably more attacking threats than any other Premier League team, which only enhances the task Di Canio faces. As I'm pressed for a score line here, I'll say 2-1 to the home side.

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