Rafael Benitez
Facing a skeptical fan base and a crunch opening fixture, there may be little honeymoon period for new Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez.  Reuters

The pressure is immediately on Rafael Benitez as he leads Chelsea out for the first time against Manchester City on Sunday, in a match that could have serious ramifications for the Premier League title race.

It has been yet another tumultuous few days in the recent history of Chelsea, as Roman Abramovich again showed no hesitation in pulling the trigger on the man in the dugout. After a first dip in results, Roberto Di Matteo has been axed and in his place in the short term is the man who once reveled in tense duels with Chelsea during his time at Liverpool.

After an impressive start to the season in which they topped the table, a run of four league games without a win has seen Chelsea drop off the pace. The Blues will begin Sunday’s clash four points behind City and knowing that further slip-ups could be fatal to their title aspirations. With their Champions League campaign looking likely to be over before Christmas, that would represent a massive disappointment following a big-spending summer.

In Manchester City, Chelsea, will be facing a side whose chances of making the Champions League stages have already been extinguished. Their early elimination for the second season running has once again brought pressure upon boss Roberto Mancini and increased the importance for the Italian in retaining their league title.

Mancini will doubtless be sweating on the availability of captain and key defender Vincent Kompany, who will face a late fitness test on a knee injury. Gael Clichy will still be absent, although Mario Balotelli could return after missing Wednesday’s draw with Real Madrid.

Chelsea will again be without the English trio of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge. One change Benitez looks likely to make from the Champions League defeat to Juventus on Tuesday is to restore Fernando Torres to the starting lineup.

Chelsea (probable)

G: Cech

D: Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole

M: Mikel, Romeu

Ramires, Oscar, Mata

F: Torres

Manchester City (probable)

G: Hart

D: Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Kolarov

M: Toure, Garcia

Nasri, Tevez, Silva

F: Aguero

Prediction: Normally when a club changes its manager, a short-term bump in results can be expected. However, given how often it has happened to Chelsea in recent times, it is hard to know if that will have any impact on Sunday. In the initial stages of his reign, Benitez is likely to focus on improving the organization of the team without the ball. That could well mean that one of the attacking midfield trio drops out with perhaps Ramires moving forward to provide a more disciplined option.

That could well mean a cagey and closely-fought affair with a low-scoring draw perhaps the likeliest outcome.

Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City

Where to watch: The Premier League contest kicks-off from Stamford Bridge at 11 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a delayed online stream available later in the day on Fox Soccer 2 Go.