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    Man City


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    West Ham



Stamford Bridge, England

Attendance: 41792

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Time not on Benitez's side

John Brewin
Rafa Benitez has had only a few days to work his magic with his new Chelsea side

If ever there were a good time for Manchester City to suffer the humiliation of a second successive Champions League exit it might just have been this week. Chelsea have stolen the thunder that was headed their way.

The heat is not exactly off Roberto Mancini but he is probably glad not to be Roberto Di Matteo, or, to extend beyond that, coach of Chelsea. Wednesday's draw crystallised his own position: fail to defend the Premier League title and he will be out on his ear. Even then, he might still be removed if Manchester City win the Pep Guardiola beauty contest. That eventuality might just suit Rafa Benitez, of course, though he starts a new job with his future already bound up in the whims of another man, one he was happy to compliment during a Thursday tea-time unveiling.

Pep talk will envelop both clubs until the Catalan has decided his direction, a decision day believed to be months away. With Champions League dreams all but extinguished for both of the country's richest clubs, the comparative mundanity of the Premier League will have to suffice.

What might have been your run-of-the-mill battle between two teams going for the title has gained blockbuster status with the events that have enveloped Stamford Bridge this week. To be going into this game with their Champions League title hanging by a thread was bad enough for Chelsea. The unveiling of a coach once openly contemptuous of the club will increase the unease for many fans. Meanwhile, the conclusion of the Mark Clattenburg affair with no case to answer for the referee and John Obi Mikel instead facing an FA charge has the look of the club being careless with its accusations. Deeper opprobrium is descending after a refusal to apologise to the referee they publicly made a complaint against.

'Champions of Europe, we know what we are' may not be sung quite so lustily at Stamford Bridge now. The reception for Benitez is likely to be polite rather than rapturous. A wait-and-see policy will be adopted by some. The lunatic fringe may even voice their concerns, and especially if all goes against the home team. In that case, City's aim must be to build frustration in their opponents and henceforth their fans. They can do so by exploiting the weaknesses at the base of Chelsea's midfield, and heart of their defence.

For Benitez, a case of flying almost blind into such a big fixture is anathema to a man of such empirical preparation. A late arrival at Thursday training, he has had scant time to espouse his philosophies but it is guaranteed that his initial approach will not be as attacking as Di Matteo's.

The deposed coach aimed to please his manager by playing the owner's favourite players but then left the back door open. Another Abramovich pet in David Luiz has been problematic; excellent in the Champions League run of last season, he has returned to the absentee defending of his early days at the club. Gary Cahill too has proved no substitute for John Terry, a defender who Benitez may one day view in the same way he once cherished Jamie Carragher.

That plotline is for the future. In considering Sunday's fixture, it is difficult to recall that City, defending champions, currently lead the division and that Chelsea are not far behind them. The Champions League, a fading concern for both combatants, can have that effect on the psyche of a club.

Chelsea player to watch: Fernando Torres

Benitez was deflective when asked about the man whose dropping in Turin precipitated Abramovich pulling the trigger on his predecessor. The new coach is the man who once took a risk in paying Liverpool's still-record transfer fee on Torres when others had passed up the opportunity. Under Benitez, Torres was undoubtedly at the height that convinced Chelsea to pay £50 million, but he may be a different player now. To get the best from him at Liverpool, a direct style of play in which he played off the shoulder of the last defender was employed. Can Torres still play like that? Do Chelsea have the other players to make that happen?

Manchester City player to watch: Sergio Aguero

The striker who replaced Torres as Atletico Madrid godhead - and his own successor in Radamel Falcao is now in Chelsea's sights - might actually suit his opponents' style of play more; close control and surging onto short passes are his trademarks. This season, he took a while to hit his stride after returning from a knee scare on the opening day but has been in tremendous form in the month of November. Goals against Ajax, Spurs, Aston Villa and Real Madrid confirm that a leaky Chelsea backline has a man in form to contend with. Benitez, who always builds from the back, will be preparing for him in the short time he has with his new charges.

Key battle: Ramires v David Silva

The Brazilian whose questionable grasp of the English language lay at the heart of his club's latest embarrassing climbdown has not found life easy of late. His performance level and effort have been high, but he has found himself outnumbered in midfield by Di Matteo's squeezing in of three playmakers whose devotion to defence has not always been of deep dedication. The partnership with Mikel has not worked in games where opponents have a variety of options. City are just that type of team and even more so after the return to form of their playmaker-in-chief. Silva called the shots in the destruction of Aston Villa to remind of his form a year ago. Benitez is not blessed with options to bolster the strength at the base of his midfield, with Frank Lampard still absent, so Ramires, once an attacking player, will be called on to continue his mostly defensive brief.

Trivia: Should Chelsea not feel the benefit of a result between Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus, then they will become the first Champions League winners to exit the competition in the next season's group stage. Manchester City meanwhile, became the first English champions to exit from the group stage since Arsenal in 1998-9. City need to beat Borussia Dortmund in their final group match or face being the worst performing English team in the group stages. Blackburn Rovers got only four points in 1995-6.

Stats: Carlos Tevez has scored six goals in his last six Premier League games against Chelsea.

Odds: Chelsea are slight favourites at 2.50 at bet365 to win the match, with City just behind them at 2.70. The draw is 3.50. Torres to score first and Chelsea to win 1-0 is a mighty 36.00.

Prediction: Let's take the odds. Torres to score first and Chelsea win 1-0. Who is Pep Guardiola anyway?

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