Focus: The man Chelsea really need to penetrate the Sunderland bunker
Don’t expect a classic. Between them, Sunderland and Chelsea have scored six goals in their last 10 Premier League matches, and this weekend Sam Allardyce’s team will most likely play in a deep, narrow formation similar to the model used so successfully by Leicester on Monday night. But without a Riyad Mahrez or Jamie Vardy at the other end, this should be a match with few clear-cut chances.
Between them, Sunderland and Chelsea have scored six goals in the last ten Premier League matches
Sunderland’s games against Southampton and Arsenal offer a clue as to the tactical pattern we will see at Stamford Bridge; they held 38% possession against Saints, and 32% at the Emirates. In the absence of the injured Lee Cattermole, Sunderland have reverted to a 5-4-1 formation that has so far proved fruitful in tightening up their defence. This is far from the ideal opponent for confidence-stricken Chelsea to face.
Chelsea are looking increasingly jaded when on the attack, failing to move into space or roam from their base positions; Eden Hazard has begun sticking to the left touchline, while Oscar floated harmlessly between N’Golo Kante and Andy King on Monday.
Failure to work hard off the ball is a typical side-effect of low morale; pulling defences apart with movement that, more often than not, doesn't lead to a direct pay-off for the player making runs is understandably rare among teams whose self-belief is low. Sunderland may not be troubled too often.
However, Cesc Fabregas is likely to return to central midfield this weekend (Ramires and Nemanja Matic were a very defensive partnership against Leicester, and certainly played their part in the rigidity of Mourinho’s team).
His ability to thread a pass through the smallest of gaps will be crucial against Sunderland’s compact shape, and the Spaniard continues to be effective against deeper sides. In the 1-0 victory over Norwich last month – when the away team held just 37% possession – it was Fabregas’s through ball that created the winning goal.