There is no love lost between Martin O’Neill and Rafael Benitez, but when they reignite their rivalry at the Stadium of Light at the weekend they might be tempted to call some sort of truce and give each other a shoulder to cry on instead.
O’Neill’s Sunderland host Benitez’s Chelsea and if the two could hardly stand the sight of each other when they were managers of Aston Villa and Liverpool respectively, they will probably be secretly thinking about how they were far happier times.
Because at the moment, a feud is the last thing on either man’s mind given the state of their jobs. Notwithstanding the ultimately futile 6-1 victory over Danish no-hopers Nordsjaelland, Benitez has had a nightmare start to his Premier League career at Stamford Bridge.
Taking just two points from an available nine, with just one goal scored to boot, the former Valencia boss has done little to win over the fans who have made their hatred of the man as vocal and as known as possible.
But at least Benitez had an idea what he was letting himself in for, even if the reaction of the Chelsea fans has been far more vicious than anybody ever imagined. O’Neill’s situation is a different one entirely and as the Northern Irishman toils to get Sunderland away from the danger zone, the disappointment around the Stadium of Light is palpable.
In stark contrast to Benitez’s unveiling, O’Neill was heralded as the saviour after replacing Steve Bruce a year ago, but after a great start things could not have turned more sour and he is now performing even worse than his predecessor.
The former Leicester boss has overseen a run of just four wins in 27 games, the last three of which came against sides reduced to ten men. Bruce was sacked after winning five of his last 27 games in charge and O’Neill’s wretched run has left the Black Cats just one point and place above the relegation zone with just 13 points from 13 games this season.
It is a dire situation, in no way helped by the terrible, unimaginative and uninspiring football O’Neill has served up that has produced just 13 goals, a record only two teams have failed to surpass to date.
So while some pressure might be on Benitez, the real heat is on O’Neill and he can’t possibly carry on in this fashion if he wants to remain manager of his boyhood club.
Will he get any respite on Saturday? Sunderland are 17/5 to win, with the draw at 27/10 and Chelsea at 3/4, and to be perfectly honest, all those prices leave me cold.
The Blues’ Champions League win in midweek was only their second victory inside 90 minutes in 12 fixtures, which, while proving that Benitez was hardly taking over a dream situation, also shows that 3/4 is no price – I need more evidence than beating a mediocre Danish outfit before I am taking an odds-on quote about Chelsea away from home.
But it goes without saying that I wouldn’t touch Sunderland with your money at any price and certainly not at 17/5, and given the rut the Wearsiders are in, I think Chelsea can pick up their first domestic win under Benitez.
Put simply, I fancy anybody to beat Sunderland at the moment, there is just nothing there at all, and in what could well be a stodgy match, I think Chelsea’s extra quality can help them nick a result.
However, I’m not expecting a classic and the 7/5 that the Blues win and there are under 3.5 goals scored looks fine to me, especially with winnings of £48 on offer for new bwin customers successfully backing this selection with their free £20 bet.
Chelsea have a brilliant record in Wearside, winning the last seven games at the Stadium of Light, and that can continue, even if it might not be particularly pretty.
Both managers will be cautious – they often are – but the Blues can edge it for Benitez, leaving O’Neill in even more bother.