Stamford Bridge, London
Saturday, 19th December; 1500 GMT
A manager-less, crisis ridden and an out of form Chelsea take on second-from-bottom Sunderland at Stamford Bridge in a a wait for it a relegation six pointer.
It is seeming more and more likely that Guus Hiddink will take charge of Chelsea soon enough, but the harrowing task of facing up to a riled-up home crowd could go to Steve Holland. The Englishman who has been with Chelsea since 2009, earlier took charge from the sidelines in the game against Stoke City when his then boss Jose Mourinho was suspended for bad-mouthing a referee. This was one of the antics, that many believe, ultimately led to the Portuguesea s sacking. There were talks of betrayal in Mourinhoa s last interview as Chelsea boss and it will be interesting to see how the players react to the situation.
The mood at Stamford Bridge could be a bitter one. Many supporters had thrown their weight behind Mourinho recently, and may feel cheated at the sacking. The prodigal son has left, this time never to return.
It would be easy to forget that there is another team playing this match given the current situation. It could, however, play right into Sunderlanda s hands as they may be hoping to sucker punch their opponents and do what quite a few teams have done this season a beat Chelsea at home. A loss for the home side would mean a drop into the relegation zone for them, and a jump out of it for the visitors . Sam Allardyce a who also replaced a sacked manager this season a could well sympathise with Holland or even Hiddink if rumours of his prospective appointment come true. That this will be unlike any other relegation six-pointers he has ever faced, is for certain.
Team news and tactics
The home side did not hold a press conference prior to this match, hence there were no official injury updates. Eden Hazard, who limped out of the game against Leicester City, might not be fit enough to start. John Terry was also replaced at half time and could also miss out.
Even though he is gone, Chelsea would be expected to continue in Mourinhoa s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Nemanja Matic and Ramires are expected to be the defensive midfield pair. Hazarda s purported absence could mean a return to midfield for Cesc Fabregas, with fellow Spaniard Diego Costa ahead of him leading the line in attack. Willian and Oscar are expected to attack from the wings, supported in their task by their full backs.
The fact that Chelsea have only scored one more goal than Sunderland so far this season and have conceded only four fewer, is a cause for concern for the club. None of their attackers barring Willian have had any form to speak of, and the recent turmoil behind the scenes must not have been of any help to the team overall.
Possible lineup (4-2-3-1): Courtois (GK), Azpilicueta, Cahill, Zouma, Ivanovic; Matic, Ramires; Willian, Fabregas, Oscar; Costa
Allardyce could be without former club captain Lee Cattermole for a while. He has been out since November with a back problem and is a doubt for this match too. Sebastian Larsson could also be an injury-related absentee.
They will be expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Jordi Gomez and Yann Ma Vila in front of the 4-man defence — a defence that has conceded 30 goals so far in the season at an average of 2 goals per game. On the attacking front too, there has been a considerable lack of action. Steven Fletcher, who is expected to lead the line in attack this match, has just 4 goals to his name so far this season. Any chance they have against Chelsea is likely to come from a strong counter-attack play, given their opponents troubles at the defensive end.
Sunderland have no real form coming into this one. A scorecard of four losses and two wins in the last six games does not make for happy reading. However, they always knew they were going to be in a fight for relegation and any point away from home could turn out to be crucial
Possible lineup: Pantilimon (GK), van Aanholt, Oa Shea, Kaboul, Jones; Ma Vila, Gomez; Watmore, Toivonen, Borini; Fletcher
Player to watch out for
The home sidea s best player by a country mile has been playing on a different planet as compared to his teammates. The Brazilian is their leading scorer at the moment and would look to add to his tally against a poor Sunderland defence. His dead ball skills and tactful play in midfield have been one of the major reasons for whatever little success Chelsea have had this season.
- Sunderland have lost 5 of their last 6 away matches in the Premier League
- The last time Chelsea lost 9 of their opening 16 games in the league, they were relegated back in the 1978/79 season.
- Sunderland have allowed their opponents a league-high 99 shots on target this season.
- Chelsea have won 18 of their last 21 games in the Premier League against Sunderland.
Chelsea 2-1 Sunderland
If Leicester City was a must win, this is a do-or-die for Chelsea. They will be desperate to get the crowd behind them once again. They should be able to see off a struggling Sunderland a albeit narrowly.
Blast from the past