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Spanish test

Torres' form and a packed fixture list will challenge Benitez's mettle'

Features - Ed Chamberlin Posted 22nd November 2012 view comments

The bookies had a field day last weekend.

Sides seemed to suffer after the midweek internationals and it threw up shocks galore; Manchester United lost at Norwich and drifted to 5/4 from evens to win the title, while Chelsea were beaten by in-form West Brom and are out to 5/1.

Benitez: the former Liverpool boss will not find things easy at Chelsea, says Ed

Benitez: the former Liverpool boss will not find things easy at Chelsea, says Ed

A lot has happened at Chelsea since that defeat and it's a fascinating time to have them live on Super Sunday, especially up against the champions Manchester City (11/8 to win the Premier League with Sky Bet). It promises to be a dramatic afternoon to end yet another eventful week in the life of Chelsea Football Club.

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It's amazing to think that Roberto Di Matteo was dismissed just 185 days after lifting the Champions League trophy and it certainly took punters by surprise. Di Matteo was 8/1 with Sky Bet before the game in Turin to be the next Premier League manager to leave his job.

He was backed down to 4/1 after the defeat to Juventus but there was no immediate stampede and plenty of punters with vouchers on Mark Hughes will be licking their wounds.

People will point to the danger of Chelsea becoming the first Champions League winners to potentially go out in the following season's group stage and his record of five defeats in his first 23 Premier League games at Chelsea - it took Jose Mourinho 75 games to lose five times.

However, this is a Chelsea side in transition. They have some young, exciting players but struggle defensively and are struggling without the spine and leadership of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.

In an interview for Super Sunday two weeks ago Gianluca Vialli told us that it is all very well having flair players but it's equally important to have a strong, preferably English 'core'.

Chelsea have no sort of core at the moment, which is a worry against City's Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero - Rafael Benitez will inherit the same problems that Di Matteo struggled with.

As discussed on Monday Night Football, Di Matteo had such a difficult job on his hands with Chelsea's brutal set of fixtures coming up, including a trip to Japan, and a limited number of top-class players to juggle with. How does he keep Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard fresh and firing?

He was not helped when his best player, Mata, had to travel to Panama and back in the week between games against Liverpool and West Brom. The only striker at his disposal was a £50 million misfiring one. Add to that balancing act, the need to win matches in the style that the club's owner demands and you get an idea of the task facing Benitez.

One piece of good news for Chelsea is that they have won six of the last seven meetings with Man City at Stamford Bridge, losing just one of the last 14. City's only win at Stamford Bridge in the last 19 years was 4-2 in February 2010. However, I wonder how many punters will be backing Chelsea at 8/5 with Sky Bet.

Sky Bet's Premier League Title odds: 5/4 Man Utd, 11/8 Man City, 5/1 Chelsea, 33/1 Arsenal, 150/1 Tottenham, 150/1 Liverpool, 175/1 Everton, 1500/1 Newcastle

Before that game at Stamford Bridge we have Brendan Rogers' return to the Liberty Stadium. His team will be looking for revenge after Swansea knocked Liverpool out of the Capital One Cup last month and for their first win at Swansea in 30 years.

Their last victory was 3-0 at the Vetch Field in September 1982 when Soccer Saturday's Phil Thompson starred for the Reds. I hope you can join us for two big games on Super Sunday from 1pm on Sky Sports 1 HD.

Other things for punters to bear in mind this weekend: Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 13 visits to Villa Park (won seven). Cher was number one with 'Believe' when Villa last beat Arsenal at home (December 1998) and 'I can feel something inside myself' that it will be another away win!

Stoke look a decent price at 11/10 to beat Fulham on Saturday. Tony Pulis' side looked much more like their old selves, particularly in the first half, on Monday Night Football and have won three of the last four meetings with Fulham at the Britannia.

Horse racing

The big jump races come thick and fast over the next few weeks and this weekend sees the return of yet more high-profile horses.

Long Run is the star of the show at Haydock and with Kauto Star now in retirement, the way may be clear for him to return to the top of the chasing tree.

However, I think Long Run has plenty to prove these days and has a load of talented second season chasers snapping at his heals.

All of Long Run's performances last season were consistent and of a decent level but none had the brilliance of his Gold Cup-winning season. Can he get back to that level?

Punters will have to guess but one thing I do know is that Haydock is not his ideal track; the sharp bends don't suit his galloping style and I'm sure at some point on Saturday Sam Waley-Cohen will look in trouble.

It's a shame Imperial Commander hasn't made the field as he would have been primed for this as his Gold Cup and would have been a good bet.

Silviniaco Conti is Sky Bet's second favourite and sure to be popular after his impressive performance in the Charlie Hall. I'm not sure how good a renewal that was and this is a horse that still has a bit to prove for me.

I think the race is ripe for an upset but I'm struggling to make a case for any of the bigger-priced horses. Finian's Rainbow is another star returning to the track this weekend. He's set to run in the Amlin Chase at Ascot.

He's the Champion Chaser yet I still don't think this horse gets the credit he deserves. Maybe that's because Sprinter Sacre steals the headlines in the Henderson stable.

Finian's Rainbow is so much more relaxed these days that I fancy him to star over longer trips this season. I think he'll win on Saturday and is my long-term fancy for the King George, and then possibly the Gold Cup. I think he's that good.

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