Sunderland host Chelsea at the Stadium Of Light on Saturday as they look for a valuable victory to help keep them alive in the Premier League for next season.
The last time Chelsea faced Sunderland in the league, it was the team’s first game after Mourinho’s departure and Chelsea ran out 3-1 winners. It was a comprehensive victory with shades of the old Chelsea, but one that was met with harsh criticism from the fans.
“Where were you when we were sh**?!” rang around the stadium and every goal was met with chants of “Jose Mourinho!”. Players like Oscar, Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa were booed out of the park by the Stamford Bridge crowd, who believed those were the players responsible for the sacking of their beloved manager.
Things have changed since then, with Guus Hiddink coming in and steadying the ship. Some players have seemingly found some form and confidence, including Fabregas, Costa and of late, Eden Hazard. Although Chelsea failed to recover fast enough to win a domestic cup or even qualify for European positions, the Dutchman has steered the team into the top half of the table.
Sunderland find themselves in familiar territory at this stage of the season. The Black Cats are in 18th place, a point behind Newcastle with a game in hand. This puts them in something of an advantageous position, and if they were to win against Chelsea, they could very well claw their way out of the mud and up to safety for another season.
Team News & Tactics
Sunderland have only one injury doubt in the form of Billy Jones, but otherwise have a full strength squad to pick from. Manager Sam Allardyce is known to set up his teams to crowd the midfield area, be physical, apply pressure and try and regain possession. Sunderland are also a team that play long balls quite a lot and use the pace of their forwards to cause problems and catch the opposition off guard.
Another of Sunderland’s strengths is their quality from set pieces. Wahbi Khazri is a fantastic crosser of the ball and his delivery could be crucial to the Black Cats scoring and creating chances. Sunderland are a team that rely on their physicality to out-muscle and bully teams, or simply to break up their opposition’s play.
As for their defence, DeAndre Yedlin and former Chelsea youth star Patrick Van Aanholt are capable of causing problems while bombing forward and this could give the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic some food for thought.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Mannone; Van Aanholt, Kone, Kaboul, Yedlin; Kirchhoff, M’Vila, Cattermole; Khazri, Borini, Defoe
Chelsea have no fresh injury concerns after their feisty derby against Tottenham. They welcome back Thibaut Courtois to the squad after the Belgian served his two-match suspension. Kurt Zouma and Loic Remy are out with long term injuries.
Hiddink is likely to stick with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Fabregas and John Obi Mikel as central midfielders and Oscar playing in behind Costa. In his pre-match press conference, the Dutchman said that he would not change the team too much and would give the Sunderland game as much importance as the Spurs game.
A full-strength Chelsea squad is likely to take the field at the Stadium of Light, with John Terry and Gary Cahill tasked with keeping Jermain Defoe quiet. Ivanovic is sure to have his hands full with Khazri and Azpilicueta will have to contend with the pace of Fabio Borini. But the former Chelsea man has netted twice in his last three appearances against the Blues and Sunderland will count on him to try and do the same today.
The midfield battle is one to watch out for; Mikel, Oscar and Fabregas will be up against a midfield three of Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and Yann M’Vila. Sunderland are a physical side and they like to crowd the midfield area and use their physicality to pressure opponents and regain possession. It should be interesting to see how the technique of Fabregas and Oscar matches up against the pressure from Sunderland’s midfield.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Courtois, Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic; Fabregas, Mikel; Hazard, Oscar, Willian; D.Costa
- The last time Sunderland beat Chelsea at home in the Premier League was back in October 2000.
- Chelsea have won 19 out of 22 meetings against Sunderland in the Premier League.
- Chelsea’s Fabregas has scored 4 league goals against Sunderland.
- Sunderland’s Fabio Borini has scored in 2 of his 3 league appearances against Chelsea.
- 19 different players have scored for Chelsea in the league this season.
Sunderland: Jermain Defoe
Jermain Defoe will play a key part in trying to unlock the Chelsea defence on Saturday. His significant pace will help him get in behind the likes of Terry and Cahill and his lethal finishing should take care of the rest. The former Spurs man is an integral part of Sunderland’s survival hopes this season and will need to be at his best if they are to get something out of the game against the Blues.
Chelsea: Eden Hazard
On his arrival in the second half of last week’s London derby, the momentum of the game completely turned on its head. Hazard played like a man possessed, determined to prove a point and to not lose against Spurs.
After a poor season, it was a far better performance than anything the Belgian had produced over the course of this campaign, and the 25-year-old capped it off with a superb goal to end Spurs’ title dreams. After a Bournemouth double and a Spurs equaliser, all eyes will be on Hazard to see whether this mini run of form can continue till the end of the season.
Sunderland 1 – 2 Chelsea
Chelsea face a Sunderland side who are fighting for their lives to avoid relegation. Every single point counts and that gives them added motivation to come hard at a Chelsea side who lack motivation.
This isn’t a London derby and Chelsea have nothing more to lose this season, other than a bit of pride. Pride is what Chelsea have been urged to play for by their manager. How much that counts for these Chelsea players will only be seen at the end of the final whistle.