Stamford Bridge, London
15:00 GMT, April 7, 2013
When Chelsea host Sunderland on Sunday, at Stamford Bridge, someone on the sidelines will garner quite a bit of attention from the press. Paolo di Canio, of Nazi-salute fame, couldn’t have asked for nor demanded a tougher draw to start his managerial career off on. With Sunderland fans hardly ecstatic at his appointment, and Chelsea desperately needing all 3 points to keep their Top 4 ambitions alive, di Canio will need to pull off a spectacular debut if his side are to leave with something.
Acting in his favor, are Chelsea’s jam-packed schedule, injuries, and the relative inexperience of Chelsea’s younger midfield. Beyond that, the Blues are pretty much favorites to win the game, seeing as how low morale is on Sunderland’s side. Paolo di Canio, may eventually prove to be a miracle worker, but with little time to have reshaped the squad in his image, he may have already thrown in the towel on this one.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Chelsea will have to do without Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill, for the time being. Cole’s understudy Ryan Bertrand will be drafted in for the night, unless Benitez decides to throw convention to the wind. With Terry, Ivanovic fit and raring to go, Cahill’s absence may well be an after-thought.
In a must-win game for the Blues, expect Benitez to roll out the big, young guns in midfield – Juan Mata will join forces with Hazard and Oscar, and Frank Lampard and Luiz shoring up the defensive midfield slots. Fernando Torres will likely earn a well-deserved break after his exploits against Kazan, and Demba Ba should lead the charge up-front.
Against, Sunderland’s lackluster offense, Terry and Ivanovic shouldn’t have too much to do, even if assisting the lesser-worn Bertrand and Azpilicueta on the flanks will feature prominently in their game plan. Presuming Chelsea roll out the fireworks in the midfield, they will expect to see very little in terms of opposition from Sunderland who will be missing both David Vaughan and captain, Lee Cattermole.
Ba’s poaching instincts will come in handy, against a side like Sunderland that will likely be stretched to contain Chelsea over 90 minutes at home.
In retrospect, it’s not a good idea to be called the Black Cats.
Sunderland’s offense have been poor all season long, and complicating matters is the absence of their best striker Steven Fletcher. He may pale in comparison to Chelsea’s best stars, but Fletcher did have 11 goals to his name until injury ruled him out. Whether his stand-ins have the ability to get one past the likes of Terry and Ivanovic remain to be seen, but they will have better luck attacking the flanks and hoping Bertrand and Azpilicueta have forgetteable games.
In midfield, Sunderland’s woes with Lee Cattermole are now compounded with the possibility that David Vaughan will be declared unfit for the game. While the latter is out for the rest of the season, the former is nursing a groin injury. Paolo di Canio, an astute strategist who made it a habit to give a young John Terry a piece of advice or two, will instruct his men to take the aerial route more often than not.
Side-stepping Chelsea’s midfield seems the only option for Sunderland to stay in the running. With only Adam Johnson to count on midfield, Sunderland may also resort to packing their defensive ranks. But that task will be made considerably harder with the absences of Cuellar and Wes Brown, in the face of Chelsea’s offense.
Key Match Facts
- Juan Mata has more assists (10) individually, than Sunderland’s top 3 on the assists list – Johnson (5), Gardner (2), Sessegnon (2) – combined.
- Chelsea have beaten Sunderland in 15 of their last 16 games. The only time Sunderland have beaten Chelsea, was incidentally at Stamford Bridge in a 3-0 mauling back in 2010.
- Sunderland are one point clear of the relegation zone, while Chelsea are 1 point away from the Top 4, albeit with a game in hand.
- Sunderland have not won a game in their last 8 outings; Chelsea have lost 3 of their last 6 games.
- Fernando Torres is Chelsea’s leading scorer across all competitions with 19 goals.
Player to Watch Out For
Adam Johnson (Sunderland)
You know the names likely to light up the pitch at Stamford Bridge. In all likelihood, they’re all from Chelsea FC. Spare a thought then, for Adam Johnson. He may not be the biggest name on the roster, but he’s Sunderland’s first, last and only hope tomorrow.
Naturally a winger, Johnson couple electric pace with single-minded determination as he cuts in and threatens to leave Chelsea’s slower-footed defenders scratching their heads. With Johnson likely to be on the right, expect him to try to torment John Terry and Ryan Bertrand. At 5’10”, he may not be the tallest, but he’s sufficiently gifted in the vertical stakes to claim the height advantage over Mata and Hazard.
Chelsea 3 – 0 Sunderland
Chelsea will run roughshod over di Canio’s Black Cats, and keep a clean sheet in the process. There’s far too wide a gulf in both sides, for Sunderland and the new manager to bridge in under a week. Frank Lampard will inch closer to Sir Bobby Tambling’s record, while Ba and Mata will likely get on the score sheet too. That’s as bold a prediction as you will find anywhere, for this game.