A former star for both clubs, Clive Walker assesses the strengths and weaknesses ahead of the crucial battle for points between Chelsea and Sunderland.
'We're a few weeks too early for the 'players already on the beach' scenario, so every game is still very competitive. Lots of teams could fall into the morass of the relegation fight and some are already mired in it, which makes this match such a big one for both sides.
'Sunderland were a struggling side under Martin O'Neill but it was late in the season to bring in a new manager. From our perspective nothing changes - Chelsea cannot afford to drop any more points if we want to finish in the top four.
'From Sunderland's point of view, a new manager is generally suggestive that the players will play harder and better as they'll want to impress the new boss.
'I wonder if that is as prevalent as it used to be, with squad rotation involving more players match-to-match. It's a squad game these days and players are not so used to playing every week with regularity.
'I think there will be changes in the way the Sunderland team plays under Paolo Di Canio - eventually. The Italian wants his teams to pass the ball, be comfortable in possession and calm under pressure.
'He has no Premier League management experience of course, and the question is do his players have enough quality to sustain those qualities against a Chelsea side hungry for points and at home.
'Chelsea must be aware of those possible teething problems with the new approach and close them down sharply, press them into mistakes, especially if Sunderland overplay. Obviously Di Canio will be aware this is a baptism of fire and may not be expecting much from this weekend.
'His priority is clearly to keep them up and he will be looking at their fixtures list and looking for the match that might spark a revival: this one, Newcastle away next weekend, then Everton at home. And with depleted personnel to select from, too.
'The news Di Canio wouldn't have wanted straight away is that Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole will miss the whole of this crucial run-in. That's their top scorer and their captain.
'Any team fighting relegation needs to find goals and people doubted Fletcher would be a success after this switch from Wolves. He came in and done a great job for Sunderland. He's also the type of guy you think there's maybe even more to come from - Di Canio might have been able to draw that out of him.
'Cattermole was their midfield leader even if he can be a bit of loose cannon. I imagine he's the type of scrapper the new manager would like in his side. He has passion, which is clearly one of Di Canio's attributes too.
'Both those two are a big miss for Sunderland who have the ultimate problem combination of not being able to score or keep clean sheets. Whoever the new coach plays, when a squad is lacking confidence and can't hit the net it can be very tough.
'It's up to us to take the game to them and both sides have so much to play for. We've not dispensed lower placed sides with the ease we should this season and cannot afford to make the same mistakes we made against Southampton.
'John Mikel Obi may return in the centre and Eden Hazard and Oscar look likely to come in, with Victor Moses and Yossi Benayoun dropping out. When we start with the three amigos we always look more likely to fire on all cylinders.
'David Luíz and JT were excellent against Rubin and the Brazilian was very disciplined and Ryan Bertrand at left-back was terrific on Thursday. He has played over 30 games this season, which is a vindication of the squad and the youth system at the club.
'One interesting area is upfront. Fernando Torres had to play in the Europa League because of Demba Ba being cup-tied. But Torres having such a great game - not just the goals he scored - gives the manager a dilemma.
'If Torres at that level, he's pushing to start every game. In Ba's favour he will be more rested and ready for the game on Sunday, and he's scoring too. That's the kind of selection dilemma every manager wants at this stage of the season.'
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Chelsea are hoping for a fifth successive Barclays Premier League victory at Stamford Bridge.
In the last 50 home games played by Chelsea in the Premier League, we have kicked towards the Shed End in the first half on 46 occasions.
The Blues have opened the scoring in 19 Premier League matches which is a higher percentage than any other club. We have gone on to win 14 games and draw four. Only West Ham have defeated us.
The Blues are five points better off compared to the corresponding 30 fixtures last season.
We have gained 12 points from losing positions this term.
We have dropped 14 points from winning positions.
|Last six results|
|Mar 10||Manchester United (FA Cup a)||D 2-2|
|Mar 14||Steaua Bucharest (Europa League h)||W 3-1|
|Mar 17||West Ham (h)||W 2-0|
|Mar 30||Southampton (a)||L 1-2|
|Apr 1||Manchester United (FA Cup h)||W 1-0|
|Apr 4||Rubin Kazan (Europa League a)||W 3-1|
Premier League scorers
Lampard 12 (4 pens), Mata 10, E Hazard 8 (1 pen), Torres 7 (1 pen), Ivanovic 4, Ramires 4, Ba 2, Cahill 2, Terry 2, Cole 1, D Luiz 1, Marin 1, Moses 1, Oscar 1 (pen), Sturridge 1, own goals 2. Total 59
League games since
A home win: 0
A home draw: 4
A home defeat: 5
|Chelsea's next three games|
|Thu 11 Apr||Rubin Kazan (Europa League) away||5pm|
|Sun 14 Apr||Manchester City (FA Cup) Wembley||4pm|
Wed 17 Apr
If selected, Petr Cech will play his 420th game for Chelsea and equal Kerry Dixon as our eighth all-time appearance maker.
If selected, Ryan Bertrand will make his 50th appearance for the Blues
6 League championships, last in 1936
2 FA Cups, last in 1973
1 FA Charity Shield in 1936
Sunderland's last major piece of silverware was the FA Cup in 1973 when Ian Porterfield scored the winner for the Second Division side against Leeds.
Of the 15 games their opposition scored first, Sunderland only came back to win one of them.
The Black Cats have won three points for the last 24 available.
They have gained six points from losing positions. Only Fulham with four have fared worse.
Sunderland have won 13 points from a possible 45 on the road this term. They have won at Fulham, Southampton and Wigan, drawn at Arsenal, Swansea, West Ham and Stoke and lost at Manchester City, Everton, Norwich, Manchester United, Liverpool, Reading, West Brom and QPR.
Martin O'Neill lost his job after the defeat against Manchester United last weekend. His record was:
|Sunderland's last 10 year league history|
|Last six results|
|Feb 9||Arsenal (h)||L 0-1|
|Feb 23||West Brom (a)||L 1-2|
|Mar 2||Fulham (h)||D 2-2|
|Mar 9||QPR (a)||L 1-3|
|Mar 17||Norwich (h)||D 1-1|
|Mar 30||Manchester United (h)||L 0-1|
2012/13 Premier League scorers
Fletcher 11, Gardner 6 (4 pens), Sessègnon 5, Johnson 4, McLean 2, Campbell 1, Cuéllar 1, Larsson 1, O'Shea 1, Ba own goal 1. Total 33.
League games since
An away win: 3
An away draw: 10
An away defeat: 0
Sunderland's completed January transfers
Ins Danny Graham (Swansea, £5m), Kader Mangane (Al Hilal, loan), Alfred N'Diaye (Bursaspor, undisclosed)
Outs Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff, £650,000), Ji Dong-Won (Augsburg, loan), David Meyler (Hull, £1.5m), Louis Saha (Lazio, free), James McFadden (Motherwell, undisclosed), Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull, loan)
THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Neil Swarbrick is refereeing Chelsea for the first time in the Premier League. His two previous Blues appointments were against Brentford in the FA Cup and our Captial One Cup match with Wolves this season, both at Stamford Bridge
There are no suspensions.