LONDON (Reuters) - Interim manager Rafael Benitez has little time to dust off his Premier League suit and tie and start plotting how to drag Chelsea out of their malaise with leaders Manchester City visiting Stamford Bridge on Sunday (1600 GMT).
The Spaniard, who guided Liverpool to European glory in 2005 and another Champions League final two years later before leaving in 2010, was appointed until the end of the season after Roberto Di Matteo was sacked on Wednesday.
Di Matteo paid the price for Chelsea’s alarming drop in form which culminated in a 3-0 loss at Juventus on Tuesday that left the holders on the brink of a Champions League exit.
Chelsea’s new man must quickly solve their defensive problems that have seen 21 goals conceded in 10 games in all competitions. Chelsea are also without a win in four league games.
Benitez will be reunited with Spain striker Fernando Torres, who he signed for Liverpool from Atletico Madrid in 2007.
Torres has often struggled to live up to his 50 million pounds price tag since moving to the capital last year and was dropped to the bench against Juve.
After a bright start, Chelsea have slipped to third and champions City, buoyed by reaching the Premier League summit last weekend, should be ready to take advantage.
City exited the Champions League at the group stage for the second season running on Wednesday after a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid, but manager Roberto Mancini believes his side are starting to hit their stride.
“We can do better, but I hope we are starting to find the form of last season - we started to change things a few games ago and it seems to be paying off,” Mancini said before the Real game.
City came from behind to beat 10-man Chelsea in the season curtain raiser, the Community Shield, in August.
With Di Matteo becoming the first managerial casualty of the season in the Premier League, it might not be too long for another to depart.
The London Evening Standard newspaper reported this week that Mark Hughes had refused Queens Park Rangers’s request to resign with the club propping up the standings on four points and without a win after 12 games.
Welshman Hughes, in charge at Loftus Road for 10 months, is adamant he can turn QPR’s fortunes around but his immediate task will not get easier with a trip to his former club Manchester United on Saturday (1500).
“I don’t run away from challenges, and this is a huge challenge,” Hughes told reporters following the 3-1 home defeat by fellow strugglers Southampton last weekend.
For Hughes, there would be no better time to get one over his old boss Alex Ferguson but the match provides a perfect opportunity for second-placed United to retake top spot, albeit for 24 hours.
United, a point behind City, rested several senior players including Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie for the midweek Champions League loss at Galatasaray, a defeat none too costly with the former European champions assured of a last 16 berth.
Fourth-placed West Bromwich Albion hastened Di Matteo’s demise when they beat Chelsea 2-1 at the Hawthorns on Saturday and Steve Clarke’s side continue their unlikely assault on the upper echelons with a trip to Sunderland in the Saturday lunchtime kickoff (1245).
Scot Clarke has made an impressive start to his first permanent managerial post after stints as an assistant coach at Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool.
In-form Nigeria striker Peter Odemwingie said the win over Chelsea, which took Albion to 23 points from 12 games, made a statement that the Midlands club were not to be taken lightly.
“It was a good time to win against a big club in November to show that, after we beat teams like Liverpool and got away points against Tottenham, we’re still on that same upwards movement,” he told local media.
In other Saturday games, fifth-placed Everton host improving Norwich City (1500) while Arsenal head to lowly Aston Villa (1730) fresh from the Londoners making the Champions League last 16.
On Sunday, former Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers returns to Wales to face his old club for the first time since leaving the Liberty stadium to take charge of Liverpool in June.
Rodgers has, perhaps, not enjoyed the early impact he would have wanted with the Anfield club anchored in mid-table, one point and one place behind the Swans.
The two sides have already met this season with Swansea enjoying a 3-1 win at Anfield in the fourth round of the League Cup in October.
Also on Sunday, Southampton host Newcastle (1500) and Tottenham Hotspur take on West Ham in a London derby at White Hart Lane (1600). (Editing by Mark Meadows)