Focus: The man Chelsea really need to penetrate the Sunderland bunker

The returning Spaniard's playmaking ability could enliven a stagnant attack against Allardyce's well-organised side, says Alex Keble...

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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.

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Sunderland defensive dashboard vs Palace (left) and Stoke’s shots vs Sunderland (right)

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.

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Oscar passes (left) and Hazard passes received (right) vs Leicester

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.

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Fabregas chances created vs Norwich (left) and Maccabi Tel-Aviv (right)

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