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Chelsea's distractions won't disappear

Preview of Saturday's action from the Baclays Premier League.
Preview of Saturday's action from the Baclays Premier League.
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Rob Stone

A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter.


Two of the biggest Premier League giants will clash this weekend, as the top-of-the-table Citizens take on the Blues, who are fresh off their latest manager sacking. Plus, we’ve got a Manchester United side ready to run rampant on lowly Queens Park Rangers, and underdog West Brom looking to quietly slide into third. Trust me, you don’t want to miss any of the action.

Chelsea vs. Manchester City (live, Sunday, 10:30 AM ET, FOX Soccer)

Without a shadow of a doubt, the managerial situation will dominate the pre, during, and post conversation in this match.

Let's start with Chelsea. Not many saw the Roberto Di Matteo sacking coming quite this quickly. But if you sense your season is in jeopardy, the good ones make the change before it's too late. The problem is, the conversation isn't going to go away. Rafa Benitez was hired to manage until the end of the season. Which season? Fall, winter, or spring?? The Pep Guardiola watch is officially on – though, this whole situation doesn’t quite seem fair to anyone involved.

How will the Blues react? That much is not clear. Rafa only joined the team for training on Thursday, and it wouldn't surprise me if he pulled a Mike D'Antoni and sat out this game against City in the stands to “analyze” – which is code for not being saddled with a loss in your opener.

Oh, and to keep the distraction train going full throttle, how about the news that Didier Drogba has petitioned FIFA for an out of transfer window loan back to Chelsea? He would start Sunday if he could. And that distraction train kept chugging away on Thursday when news broke the referee Mark Clattenburg was cleared of allegations that he racially abused Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel. To add onto this seemingly un-ending drama, Mikel was charged Thursday with misconduct by the FA for ''threatening and/or abusive and/or insulting words and/or behavior'' after the game, when he reportedly went into the referee's changing room to confront Clattenburg. Make it stop!

Roberto Mancini is really starting to rub folks the wrong way. Multiple times my FOX Soccer guys were yelling off camera at his over the top reactions to his players’ activities on Wednesday. To be blunt: his sideline actions have gotten old. A second straight season of getting bounced in the Champions League group stage isn’t winning him many bonuses, either. BUT, he has his defending BPL champs back in first, and playing impressively for large patches. The numbers don’t lie – City is the only unbeaten team in the league, and they've scored the second most goals, allowed the fewest and have the best goal differential. But a few domestic slip-ups strung together, and the other Roberto could be joining Di Matteo for weekend viewing parties.

Manchester United vs. QPR, (live, Saturday, 9:30 AM ET, FOX Soccer)


Why is Snoop hitting the headlines? Find out why and the latest top rumors in this week's Rumor Redux.

Shocking fact of the day: Mark Hughes lasted longer than Di Matteo – yes, he really did. On Saturday, his winless side will continue to be winless as they meet Manchester United at the wrong time. The Red Devils deserved to lose last weekend at Norwich City, and now they know that they can't expect to magically recover from EVERY deficit this season.

They should be well rested as Sir Alex Ferguson, with the top spot in his Champions League group already established, left most of his stars home rather than drag them to hostile Istanbul. Smart move, Sir Alex.

Aston Villa vs. Arsenal (live, Saturday, 12:30 PM ET, FOX Soccer)

The line starts here to board the Arsenal Roller Coaster. Seriously, if you are a Gunners fan, your emotional stability has to resemble that of my wife when she was pregnant with twins while I was on the road constantly (Good times. Good. Times).

One week Podolski is Henry, Carzola is Fabregas and Giroud is Robin van Persie, and the next they look like a team that is battling Sunderland for 14th. Right now, they are on possibly their best high of the campaign. Unbeaten since November 6, and victors over Spurs 5-2 last weekend (yes, that score reflects the man advantage they had for a majority of the match) and a convincing midweek Champions League win that confirmed their entry into the knockout stage. How much longer does the roller coaster stay up until they hit the next nasty dip?

Sunderland vs. West Brom (live, Saturday, 7:30 AM ET, FOX Soccer)

Something you may not know: I'm an underdog fan. And West Brom are an underdog running at the dog park with some rather impressive animals. Just look at them sitting there in fourth, with a solid chance to close the weekend in third. Thoughts of how they’ll spend their Champions League riches jumping in their head. Maybe a new shirt sponsor. How about a new stadium? Maybe some celebrity fans? Whoa, big dog, hold on there. While WBA may be on the rise, they must keep sitting on their well-worn mat, enjoy their water and cut-rate dog chow, and keep doing what they're doing, because it’s working.

It's on!

Our own Kyle McCarthy wrote an excellent and thorough take on the new U.S. women’s professional league, which was announced on Wednesday. I’m thrilled that our women have a chance to compete and improve again, and I am intrigued by the Canadian and Mexican partnership. I sense that US Soccer may be a trendsetter with that arrangement. There are exciting things on the horizon for women’s pro soccer here in the States, and I’m looking forward to watching it develop.

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