Paolo Di Canio has been hired to have a galvanising effect on his Sunderland squad but his Chelsea counterpart, Rafael Benítez, has questioned how much impact the Italian can have if his players are not good enough.

Di Canio, who was appointed by Sunderland a week ago after Martin O'Neill's sacking, will take charge of his side for the first time when they visit Chelsea on Sunday afternoon and their interim manager, Benítez, believes that players are ultimately the key to any club's success.

Sunderland, who are one point above the bottom three, have failed to win any of their past eight matches, a dismal run that convinced their owner, Ellis Short, to sack O'Neill and turn to Di Canio, who resigned as the manager of the League One side Swindon Town in February.

"We are playing Sunderland, not the manager," said Benítez. "I don't think the manager can make that much difference if they do not have the right players. They will be different on Sunday so we will have to concentrate. But we will play in the style and the way we can play and not worry about them. We just need to concentrate on our game."

The furore surrounding Di Canio, who was forced to issue a denial on Wednesday that he is a fascist, has added an extra layer of intrigue to his first appearance in the Sunderland dugout, but Chelsea's Eden Hazard expects him to be a success at the Stadium of Light.

"I know a bit about him," Hazard said. "There's been a lot of talk about him here. He's a big personality here and I think he was a great player. I'm sure he will do a good job there but after we have won on Sunday."

This is Chelsea's fourth game in eight days and Benítez will again be forced to ring the changes. Last Monday they won their FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United to set up a semi-final against Manchester City a week on Sunday, while they won the home leg of their Europa League quarter-final 3-1 against Rubin Kazan 3-1 on Thursday night.

The second leg of that tie is in Moscow in four days' time but Benítez also knows that he must ensure Chelsea secure their place in the top four. "I don't know how many we can change but we will be changing some of them," the Spaniard said. "We do have some hard games to play. The good thing now is that we have one game in hand and, if we win, we will be third. It is down to us whether we stay at the top." Juan Mata said: "Our objective for the season is to win these two titles and to get into the Champions League. That is very important. We still have a lot to play for this year.