- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

LONDON (AP) - Even at Chelsea’s lowest, ebb the fans were still chanting Jose Mourinho’s name.

Just how will they react to the departure of the “Special One,” the most successful manager in Chelsea’s history? Owner Roman Abramovich won’t have to wait long to find out, with Chelsea hosting Sunderland on Saturday at Stamford Bridge.

Surely, though, the atmosphere cannot be as bitter and divisive as the 2012-13 season, when Abramovich defied fans by appointing Rafa Benitez. Guus Hiddink would be a popular interim choice, having won the FA Cup in 2009 with Chelsea after briefly holding the fort between Luis Felipe Scolari’s firing and Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment.

There’s an immediate need to halt the decline. Chelsea is in the midst of the worst-ever defense of a Premier League title. The danger of relegation is real - however improbable - with Chelsea sitting only a point above the drop zone after 16 games. With each game, making the top four and qualifying for next season’s Champions League looks increasingly unlikely.

For a team of Chelsea’s standing, nine losses are an embarrassment - particularly after winning the title by eight points in May.

The situation for Saturday’s opponent, though, is even worse with Sunderland three points further back in the drop zone.

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce was shocked that Chelsea decided to ditch Mourinho only four months after his signed a new four-year contract.

“I’m sad to see Jose go,” Allardyce said. “He’s a great manager with great character and he’s a loss to the Barclays Premier League I think.”

Mourinho’s parting shot to his squad was saying he felt betrayed by them in Monday’s 2-1 loss at Leicester.

“It’s a pretty bad indictment on the players if they actually go and perform a lot, lot better than they have done recently just (be)cause Jose’s lost his job,” Allardyce said. “There seems to be that reaction sometimes from a squad of players when one manager goes and they wait to see which new manager’s coming in.”

Here is a look at other talking points this weekend in the Premier League:

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LEICESTER SETBACKS

The surprise leader after Monday’s victory over Chelsea is a Leicester side that was fighting relegation last season. But Claudio Ranieri’s team was dealt an injury blow on Thursday after winger Jeff Schlupp was ruled out for six weeks with a hamstring problem.

Midfielder Danny Drinkwater, who limped off against Chelsea, might only miss the trip to Everton on Saturday.

Robert Huth’s yellow card against Chelsea presents Ranieri with another problem as it was the defender’s fifth of the campaign and he will serve a one-match suspension at Goodison Park.

“When I was with Chelsea I was known as the Tinkerman,” Ranieri said. “Now I don’t want to change. I am waiting for when people change my nickname from Tinkerman to ‘Thinkerman’. The team plays so well so why change? But I must.

“Without Huth I have to choose between (Yohan) Benalouane and (Marcin) Wasilewski. I keep this decision to myself until the night before the match. I always choose my team the night before the game.”

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TOTTENHAM’S STADIUM

Tottenham has been granted planning permission by its local council to build a new 61,000-seat stadium adjacent to the current White Hart Lane venue in time for the 2018-19 season. The stadium will also stage NFL matches.

The plans must be formally approved by the London mayor’s office.

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ELSEWHERE

Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United job does not appear in immediate danger - unless results get any worse. A 2-1 loss at Bournemouth last weekend was United’s third winless league game. United on Saturday hosts a Norwich side in the relegation zone.

The big game of the 17th round of fixtures is not until Monday, when second-place Arsenal hosts third-place Manchester City.

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