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Chelsea gear up for Everton challenge

London: Some astute tactical tinkering and the return to form of some key players has put Chelsea back in the Premier League title picture and helped interim manager Rafael Benitez in his quest to gain acceptance among the club’s disgruntled fans.

After a stodgy start to Benitez’s reign, Chelsea have won their last three league games to close within four points of second-place Manchester City, still with a game in hand.

Benitez is slowly putting his stamp on the team, with the decision to bring in Victor Moses as a hard-working right winger and move David Luiz from central defence to central midfield proving a roaring success and giving the side a more robust look to it. With an 8-0 win over Aston Villa and a 1-0 victory at Norwich, Chelsea have returned back-to-back clean sheets over the hectic Christmas period.

Seeing Spain internationals Fernando Torres and Juan Mata looking sharp in front of goal will also please Benitez ahead of Sunday’s tough-looking match at fifth-place Everton, who are unbeaten in seven matches.

“He came with slightly different ideas — it’s working so far, and hopefully it will continue,” Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech said of Benitez.

City’s 1-0 loss to Sunderland left the champions seven points behind Manchester United in the title race.

United will look to extend their unbeaten run to eight matches when they host West Bromwich at Old Trafford but will be without Wayne Rooney, who damaged knee ligaments in training this week and is out for up to three weeks.

That should ensure Javier Hernandez — the scorer of United’s 90th-minute winner against Newcastle in a 4-3 victory on Wednesday — gets another chance up front alongside Robin van Persie. City travel to Norwich, who won five games in a row at Carrow Road before losing to Chelsea.

Weekend fixtures
Saturday: Sunderland vs Tottenham Hotspur; Aston Villa vs Wigan Athletic; Fulham vs Swansea City; Manchester United vs West Bromwich Albion; Norwich City vs Manchester City;
Reading vs West Ham United, Stoke City vs Southampton; Arsenal vs Newcastle United
Sunday: Everton vs Chelsea; Queens Park Rangers vs Liverpool