Chris Young’s Sunderland Verdict: Anything can happen!

Paolo Di Canio talks to Matt Kilgallon in training
Paolo Di Canio talks to Matt Kilgallon in training
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CHELSEA assistant manager Bolo Zenden was the last Sunderland representative to jig on the Stamford Bridge touchline.

If Sunderland claim anything, or even score, in West London on Sunday, he will have a successor.

Paolo Di Canio won’t contain himself if there is a sniff of glory for Sunderland this weekend.

For a character who wears his heart so emphatically on his sleeve, the Italian will inevitably race away to the Black Cats contingent housed in the Shed End to celebrate with his arms aloft.

But what chance of Di Canio marking his bow in the Premier League dug-out with an addition to Sunderland’s precarious points tally?

Wigan’s clash at QPR an hour later on Sunday at least ensures Sunderland will still be outside the bottom three by the time they kick-off against Chelsea.

But how priceless a single point – or, in a dreamworld, three – would be for Sunderland’s survival bid.

Despite his feats at Swindon though, Di Canio is an unknown quantity.

Sunderland are entering uncertain waters, where the 44-year-old’s stewardship could be an unqualified success or an unmitigated disaster.

Only in seven games’ time will supporters know whether Di Canio’s training ground regime – already leaving Sunderland’s players short of breath – can be adequately transferred to the Premier League.

Di Canio may prove to be an inspired choice by Ellis Short though.

Sunderland’s players have been sleepwalking towards the relegation zone for weeks, rather than gritting their teeth and scrambling towards the 40-point mark.

They needed someone to “kick some bottom” – as Di Canio put it this week.

The appointment of the former West Ham frontman will certainly have proved a shock to the system at the Academy of Light.

He is about as polar opposite to Martin O’Neill as they come.

But the opportunities for Di Canio to rip up O’Neill’s blueprint and start again are minimal with the paltry numbers available to him.

With Steven Fletcher, Lee Cattermole and Carlos Cuellar ruled out, and David Vaughan still a major doubt, Di Canio’s options are limited.

Given the roller coaster of the last week though, it would almost be a surprise if Di Canio didn’t spring a surprise in his starting XI.

Connor Wickham in the starting XI? Danny Rose on the left wing? A first sight of Kader Mangane?

The only certain aspect is that Di Canio won’t put 11 men behind the ball. He has instantly grasped the obvious that Sunderland won’t survive if their meagre return of six goals – three of which have been penalties – from the last eight games continues.

Di Canio’s talk of playing a 4-2-4 may seem kamikaze, but there is an element of Sunderland needing to go for broke in the final third.

As Southampton highlighted last weekend too, Chelsea can be vulnerable when their opponents go for the jugular.

Rafa Benitez’s Champions League-chasing side are a different prospect at Stamford Bridge, where they have won their last four league outings and secured a confidence-boosting victory over Manchester United in Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final replay.

But fatigue will inevitably be a factor on Sunday as they face their fourth game in nine days.

Benitez will rotate his side, with ex-Newcastle United frontman Demba Ba almost certain to be included after being cup-tied for last night’s Europa League tie against Rubin Kazan.

Yet if there is such a thing, this is an auspicious time to visit Chelsea.

The hosts won’t know what to expect from Di Canio’s side and will certainly harbour more reservations than if O’Neill was bringing his faltering team to town.

Can Sunderland get anything?

After the week that was, it would be naive to beT against it.

Verdict: Draw