Stadium of Light, Sunderland
September 10, 2011; 14:00 GMT
The transfer window has closed and the international break is over; Chelsea will travel to the Stadium of Light on Saturday to take on Steve Bruce’s men. This season, Chelsea have not enjoyed a customary high-flying start. Instead, they have been slow, cautious, and even dysfunctional at times, but have taken 7 out of the available 9 points nonetheless, and sit 2 points behind leaders Man United and Man City. The stunning nature of United’s and City’s play this season has already seen Chelsea being labelled as underdogs for the title-race, but the Blues won’t complain, as this race doesn’t end in September.
The West London club has been fairly successful in this fixture, especially in Wearside, winning the last six games at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland have lost 7 of their last 8 home matches – a horrible run which started back in February, when they lost to Chelsea. However, by this time, Villas-Boas would have analysed the fateful match at Stamford Bridge last season, wherein The Black Cats destroyed Chelsea 0-3. Ergo, there isn’t any room for complacency to creep in whatsoever, even though Sunderland are still looking for their first win in the current campaign.
Team News and Tactical Brief
So far in this campaign, Sunderland have drawn two away games to Liverpool and Swansea, which they should have ideally lost, had Suarez not missed his penalty and had Swansea not been so wasteful in front of goal. In addition to this, they have lost at home to bitter-rivals Newcastle United. Steve Bruce has signed as many as ten players in the summer, the latest being Nicklas Bendtner from Arsenal. The major worry for Steve Bruce has been his central defense, as Anton Ferdinand has joined Queens Park Rangers, while John O’Shea is doubtful to play, after picking up an injury. However, Titus Bramble and Michael Turner are expected to be available for selection again.
In the three games thus far, Bruce has lined-up his team in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Gyan leading the line and Sessegnon playing in a withdrawn role behind him. With goals rare to come by, the manager is expected to switch to a traditional 4-4-2 system with Gyan and Bendtner playing upfront, with Sessegnon on the right and Larsson on the left. Cattermole and Colback will continue to play in central midfield. The back-four is likely to feature Richardson, Bramble, Brown and Bardsley, with Mignolet between the posts.
Sunderland have appeared vulnerable while dealing with crosses from wide areas, and the defenders tend to miss their man while under counter-attack. Bruce will have to rectify these problems quickly, for Sunderland to stand any chance of recording their first win this weekend. Chelsea’s defenders, playing further up the pitch than they are used to, have not looked particularly comfortable this season, with Alex, of all people, being out-muscled by Shane Long against West Brom, and Grant Holt making the most of a confusion between Hilario and Ivanovic. Gyan, Bendtner, and Sessengnon will have to back themselves at home, and capitalize on any further mistakes by the Chelsea defense.
Probable Starting Line-up: (4-4-2) Mignolet; Richardson, Bramble, Brown, Bardsley; Cattermole, Colback, Larsson, Sennegnon; Gyan, Bendtner.
The reinforcements have arrived, bans have been served, various tactical and personnel dry-runs are over, and this may just be the game wherein the real intent of Andre Villas-Boas’ Chelsea will be on display. Out of all the players signed by the club, Meireles and Mata are expected to play a defining role this season. Daniel Sturridge has served his ban, and will be available for selection. While, fan-favorite David Luiz has been finally declared fit for this trip, in addition to Petr Cech. The only players sidelined are Didier Drogba, who is yet to fully recover from the knock he sustained in the game against Norwich, and Michael Essien.
Villas-Boas is expected to deploy a 4-3-3 formation, with Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge forming the three-pronged attack. The midfield has thus far featured Mikel, Ramires and Lampard, but now the manager also has Raul Meireles in his arsenal. It will be interesting to see whether he throws his compatriot straight into the mix, in place of either Ramires or Lampard, or brings him on in the second half. The second option looks more likely at the moment. The back-four will have a familiar feel to it, with Cole, Terry, Ivanovic and the in-form Bosingwa retaining their place, despite the availability of Luiz. Fit-again Petr Cech will walk back into the team to take his position as the Chelsea number one.
Chelsea will have a man advantage in central midfield, and they will look to dominate Cattermole and Colback. If Sunderland’s wide players come in-field for help, they will run the risk of giving Cole and Bosingwa a free reign on the flanks – which can be disastrous for the home team. Chelsea should ideally go for the kill from the onset, without allowing Sunderland to settle, and get a couple of goals early. This will give Villas-Boas the comfort to give players such as Meireles, Luiz, McEachran and Bertrand some game-time in the second half.
The manager has this match and the midweek Champions League game to sort out whatever problems he sees in the team, as next weekend is the all-important visit to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United.
Probable Starting Line-up: (4-3-3) Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole; Mikel, Lampard, Ramires, Mata, Torres, Sturridge.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea)
The England under-21 forward will make his return after serving a three-match ban, courtesy a red card he had picked up in the final game of last season, and is expected to walk straight into Villas-Boas’ starting line-up.
After his impressive spell at Bolton, he had performed well as a right-forward in pre-season, under the new manager, who was impressed with what he saw in Asia. Chelsea have not signed a right winger/forward in the summer, and Daniel has an opportunity to make that position his own this season. Previously, he spoke of how he’s relishing the prospect of playing in this position – it’s time to put his money, where his mouth is.
Sunderland 1-3 Chelsea
Sunderland can expect to score at the Stadium of Light, especially with Petr Cech returning after an injury layoff and Chelsea’s defense appearing pregnable at times this season. However, a near full-strength Chelsea may just turn out to be a little too hot for The Black Cats to handle.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST