It perhaps wasn’t the margin of victory that most were expecting, but Chelsea’s patience against West Brom on Saturday ultimately paid the very best dividend as Diego Costa dispossessed Gareth McAuley and curled home in the 76th minute to secure a narrow 1-0 win.
The Baggies were in typically stubborn mood at the Bridge, and that was a 30-yard free kick from David Luiz which the Brazilian did brilliantly well to get so close to breaking the deadlock. Those were the only two shots on target recorded by the Blues, but you only need to score once to win a game of football and we were largely untroubled at the back. That’s seven clean sheets kept in our last nine, of course.
It was a performance that underlined our title credentials since switching to 3-4-3, and proved that all kinds of opponent – from the conservative Baggies to the more open Manchester City – can and will be disposed off by Chelsea 2.0.
A very different kind of challenge awaits us on Wednesday evening, although what kind of mood Sunderland will be in is anybody’s guess. The Black Cats were flying, relatively speaking, with three wins in four starts, but Saturday’s 0-3 shoeing at the hands of Swansea was a monumental step backwards for David Moyes and his team.
Surely the only thing stopping Chelsea from making it a perfect ten of wins is complacency here?
Chelsea Team News
The secret to Chelsea’s success of late has been in having a settled starting eleven to call upon. Apart from Willian’s absence on compassionate grounds, the only injury blow that the Blues have suffered was Nemanja Matic for the Manchester City game. Just ask Claudio Ranieri about the merits of being able to stick with Plan A week in, week out.
While John Terry and Oscar are considered squad men these days, their absence through a muscle strain and illness respectively clearly weakens the Chelsea bench. But that is a secondary concern when we note that Antonio Conte should be able to name an unchanged starting eleven for the seventh match out of eight on Wednesday.
Could he rest players? That would be something of a regressive step, and even with a busy festive period to come it is not like the Blues have been overworked given the absence of European football; which, ironically, has surely worked in our favour.
So, we go again with this familiar-looking line-up:
Sunderland v Chelsea Head to Head
Chelsea haven’t actually won at the Stadium of Light in three visits, with a 2-3 defeat there back in May backed by a 0-0 draw in April 2014 and a 1-2 loss in the League Cup in December 2013. Even so, this is a rather different Chelsea side to the one that has headed north in recent times.
Overall, the Blues have rather enjoyed the upper hand on the Black Cats, and of their last 25 meetings in all competitions Chelsea have won 19, with two draws and four defeats.
Last season the Blues presented Guus Hiddink with the perfect welcome gift in his first game in charge with a 3-1 win at the Bridge courtesy of goals from Branislav Ivanovic, Pedro and Oscar, while in the reverse fixture goals from Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic were not enough to ward off a 2-3 defeat.
How the Match Will Be Won
As already mentioned, it is hard to know which Sunderland will turn up here. They’ve turned in some decent performances of late, but the manner in which they succumbed to Swansea at the weekend was a huge surprise.
The Black Cats were completely played off the park, and this was the eighth match of fifteen in which they had conceded two or more goals.
The renaissance is, perhaps, a false dawn. Victories over inconsistent Bournemouth, a poor Leicester City and hapless Hull are nice but expected, and it is noticeable that Sunderland have continuously fallen short against the division’s form teams (at the time): Liverpool (0-2), Arsenal (1-4), Everton (0-3) and Stoke (0-2) highlights how they have struggled against teams whose star was or is in the ascendancy.
So how will this match pan out? Well, you would expect a straightforward Chelsea victory with little homage being paid to Sunderland. They will pack the midfield with strong, defence-minded players, but as we saw against West Brom at the weekend that is a problem that this Blues side can, eventually, overcome.
Going forward Sunderland offer very little. Jermain Defoe remains an outstanding finisher, but if you don’t get the ball to him in the right areas then his presence on the pitch borders on the pointless. Victor Anichebe is a big strong lad but his eventual output in front of goal is rather limited. And that, really, is about the limit of their ambitions going forward.
This should be as easy a victory as Chelsea have enjoyed in this winning streak. They will enjoy plenty of possession, and as long as they move the ball around with purpose and at pace they should have no problem unlocking a rugged but technically-lacking Sunderland back line.