Sunderland – Chelsea (Premier League)
The Stadium of Light has made for pleasant visits for the Blues and José Mourinho will take this fixture as an opportunity to strength the teams confidence and steady their performances. However, Gus Poyet hasn’t lost a home game since he took Sunderland’s manager position in October. And one thing is sure, they won’t go down without a fight.
On Saturday Sunderland held Aston Villa to a null, the second point of the season in away games. But previous to that they fell 2-0 to Stoke City. Poyet’s appointment as boss of the Black Cats was a breath of fresh air, bringing hope to a strained locker room. They are still struggling, of course. Nineteenth in the table, with a 2-2-9 mark. That equals 8 points in 13 matches, 7 of which under Poyet’s leadership. And he knows it’s vital for Sunderland to keep on this road if they intend to escape relegation.
John O’Shea picked up a knock in the weekend’s game but the manager is confident he will be fit to play Chelsea on Wednesday. Carlos Cuéllar was ruled out. Diakité and Keiren Westwood are doubtful.
Probable lineup: Mannone – Bardsley, Brown, O’Shea, Dossena – Ki – Giaccherini, Larsson, Gardner, Borini – Fletcher.
A couple of Chelsea‘s close competitors either failed or stumbled this last weekend. United and the Spurs divided points, Liverpool dropped them. The home victory over Southampton pushed the Blues to the second place with 27 points, four points under Arsenal.
The lineup brought several changes to the one that lost to Basel and they totally paid off. José Mourinho’s men found themselves on the downside fourteen seconds into the game. But this time they kept their cool and determination. The centre-backs stepped up, first Gary Cahill and then Terry, turning things around. You can say it was evidence that the men up front lacked effectiveness and it was up to defenders to save the day. But there’s no doubt that a top team starts with a solid, assertive back-block and Mourinho knows it. You start building from the ground up, and the four men defence are Chelsea’s foundations. As always Torres worked hard helping the team, even if he did not netted. Bringing Demba Ba in really improved the attack’s dynamics and he tipped the ball in for the third goal, a hit that was 98% Ramires’. At least. Juan Mata was recalled to the starting XI and he made a difference. He was on the first two goals, enlighten Chelsea’s game and apparently even played out every indication Mourinho gave him. With Oscar out due to injury the Spaniard has a good chance to start on Wednesday. Ashley Cole was reported in contention but Azpilicueta’s performances are making it hard for the English to retrieve his spot in the left-back. David Luiz is still recovering and Eto’o could return to the squad.
Probable lineup: Cech – Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole – Obi Mikel, Lampard, Ramires – Mata, Torres, Hazard.
The next three fixtures for Chelsea will be against teams that are at the bottom of the table. Sunderland has the Blues and the Spurs in their immediate future. In the last 15 times they went head-to-head Chelsea only lost once. Under-motivation and excessive confidence can be a tricky business when combined with the other’s side desperate need to survive. Mourinho is certainly aware of that but will it get through to the players?