The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs Sunderland
Knights of the true table clash.
“The table is a fake,” claimed Jose Mourinho a couple of weeks ago as Chelsea sat proudly in first position, while Gus Poyet countered that “the table doesn’t lie” last weekend after his side’s defeat to Everton.
- Swansea 0-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-0 PSG (CL)
- Chelsea 3-0 Stoke (Prem)
- PSG 3-1 Chelsea (CL)
- Palace 1-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Man City 2-2 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 0-1 Everton (Prem)
- Spurs 5-1 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 1-2 West Ham (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 S'land (Prem)
The table itself was unavailable for comment about whether it is a dirty fibber or not, but was happy to reveal that the Blues now lie in second place, two points behind Liverpool, while the Black Cats are rock bottom but with a game in hand, a number of fellow strugglers still to play and a morale-boosting draw with Manchester City putting a spring in their step.
Both sides now seem less likely to achieve their Premier League goals for the season than they did at the turn of the year. Sunderland might not be one of the three worst sides in the league – Cardiff and Fulham have vastly inferior goal differences, while Norwich are arguably in a worse state, too – but the Wearsiders’ impressive achievements going deep into both domestic cups has stretched them far too thin in the mission to stay up. They haven’t won in the league since the February derby with Newcastle, and despite their Etihad heroics, it’s hard to see them starting on Saturday.
Chelsea, meanwhile, now look second favourites for the title, and have got a whopper of a week coming up: Atletico Madrid at the Calderon on Tuesday night, followed by a make-or-break, Über-Super-Sky-Smackdown-Sunday trip to Anfield.
Poyet can hope, and with some evidence, that Mourinho’s mind may already be half way to Madrid and Merseyside. Chelsea have been caught cold several times this season prior to big Champions League matches, losing 1-0 at Palace before going to PSG, 1-0 at Villa before Galatasaray, 3-2 at Stoke before playing Steaua Bucharest, 2-0 at Newcastle before Schalke, and 1-0 at Everton pre-Basel.
Sunderland’s derby performances, Man City-bothering grit and lively cup runs this year have shown that when they operate at their most full-blooded, they can pull off results. But the business end of the season is when Jose comes into his own, and a clinical home defeat is required otherwise the Liverpool trip will be rendered pointless.
“It would be a miracle to stay up,” says Poyet. And if the miraculous doesn’t start soon, that phoney, fabricating fabulist the Premier League Table will be waving them goodbye.
Both sides are relatively knock free, with just Eden Hazard out for the home team. Sunderland lack Steven Fletcher, Keiren Westwood and Carlos Cuellar, but will be cursing the knee injury to key man Ki Sung-Yueng.
Player to watch: Willian (Chelsea)
Tight, tense home affairs against opponents fighting for survival towards the end of the season are often decided by rare flashes of quality, and alongside Nemanja Matic, the be-Afro’d Brazilian midfield marvel looked like the Blues’ best creative outlet against Swansea.
He completed 71 of 78 passes against the Welshmen – 43 of them in the final third – and manufactured 4 clear scoring chances with his vision and brio. He can beat a man as well as pass – completing 3 take-ons out of 5 – and was also useful without the ball, recovering it 6 times.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- S'land e2-1 Chelsea (LC, Dec 13)
- S'land 3-4 Chelsea (Prem, Dec 13)
- Chelsea 2-1 S'land (Prem, Apr 13)
- S'land 1-3 Chelsea (Prem, Dec 12)
- Chelsea 1-0 S'land (Prem, Jan 12)
Jose’s naughtiness continues: following his fine for being sent off at Villa, Garry Monk claimed the Portuguese pressurised the fourth official over the Chico Flores sending off. Expect further shenanigans – our money is on some kind of wild infraction at Anfield – before the season’s end. Poyet seems at a loss with what is rotten in the state of Wearside (“there is something wrong… it is too many things,” he despairs) and even claimed football is trying to kill him after the Man City drama. Deep breaths, Gus. The duo have already clashed twice, despite the Uruguayan having only been in situ since October.
In the league fixture at the Stadium of Light, Hazard dazzled as Chelsea edged a thriller 4-3, but the Mackems got their revenge a fortnight later – also at home – when they knocked the Blues out the League Cup, 2-1. Ki Sung-Yueng thumped a majestic winner that day.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea have lost 5 of 10 league games preceding Champions League matches this season.
- Chelsea have won 22 of their last 25 home games.
- 11 of Chelsea’s last 14 home games have produced at least 3 goals.
- Sunderland have lost their last 6 games with Chelsea but 4 were by just 1 goal.
- 10 of the 11 meetings between these teams since 2008/09 have seen at least 3 goals.
- Sunderland have only lost by more than a goal in 2 of their last 8 trips to top-six teams.
No style points, but Chelsea to eke out a one-niller to keep their dream alive.