Chelsea grabbed a thoroughly deserved three points at the Stadium of Light by beating Steve Bruce’s Sunderland 4-2 with goals from Frank Lampard, Salomon Kalou, John Terry and man-of-the-match Nicolas Anelka. The win has not moved Chelsea any further to the top of the table, with Manchester United also winning on the night, but it was arguably the Blues first truly convincing performance since they beat Spartak Moscow at Stamford Bridge nearly three months ago.
After winning their previous two league games and with the prospect of David Luiz and Fernando Torres joining up with the team, it felt, even before the match, as though Chelsea’s nightmare run of the previous three months was a distant memory.
These memories, though, were rekindled after just four minutes when stand-in left back Phil Bardsley gave Sunderland the lead. Bardsley was able to run at the Chelsea defence freely, rounded John Obi Mikel without fuss and scored from just outside the box. Bardsley will have seen it as a screamer on his part, but Petr Cech will have been very disappointed not to have saved it.
Had this game been played a month ago, the chances are that the game would not have seen another goal. However, the buoyed Chelsea team, once again dreaming of regaining the Premier League crown, were deservedly back in business merely eleven minutes later. Ashley Cole, waiting to receive a teasing ball from Michael Essien, was blatantly brought down by Ahmed Elmohamady and referee Mark Halsey had no choice but to give a penalty. Frank Lampard stepped up and blasted in his third league goal of the season.
After some frantic end-to-end football Chelsea had overturned the lead on 23 minutes when Anelka played a fantastic ball through to Kalou for the Ivorian to get his tenth goal of the season. Kalou sprinted to catch up with the ball before finishing fantastically with one touch when competing for the ball with two defenders and ‘keeper Craig Gordon.
Just as Carlo Ancelotti’s men looked as though they could rack up a really high score the game was level again. More poor defending from Mikel and, this time, Ivanovic gave Sunderland a free-kick in a dangerous area for a chance to score the fourth goal of the match in just 29 minutes. Kieran Richardson stepped up and cheekily shot the ball underneath the climbing Chelsea wall; this time Cech didn’t stand a chance.
Astonishingly the score remained 2-2 going into half-time. Sunderland looked dangerous on the break and Chelsea were putting large amounts of pressure on Craig Gordon’s goal. As the players walked off the pitch, Didier Drogba, Essien and Lampard had forced fantastic saves from Gordon and Ivanovic had hit the bar.
Fears that Chelsea’s intensity would be muted after the break were groundless as, for fiteen minutes, it was all Chelsea. The three teams above Chelsea – Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City – have all lost points at the Stadium of Light this season and there was a creeping fear that Chelsea would be made to rue missed chances approaching the hour mark. However, as Lampard was denied for the umpteenth time by Gordon, the ball fell on the half-volley to John Terry who finished fabulously.
Chelsea failed to kill the game off until the second minute of stoppage-time despite having 23 shots on the day. Notably, Kalou hit both posts after again being put through by Anelka and Lampard continued to be frustrated by Gordon. Chelsea did begin to sit back in the last ten minutes and, although Sunderland really didn’t threaten too much, nerves were rising. Chelsea’s comfort zone finally arrived when Florent Malouda, who had recently come on for Kalou, worked well to get into the box and square to Anelka who, in his typical fashion, coolly glanced the ball into the net, to get a really well-deserved goal.
Ancelotti feels that Chelsea are back on track, the players are playing with the belief that won them the league last season and even Wayne Rooney has conceded that Chelsea are United’s main title rivals. That was undoubtedly Chelsea’s best performance for a long time. The Blues are no closer to the top of the table but on that performance, and with the prospect of Torres adding more goals and Luiz strengthening the defence, Chelsea’s bid to retain the title is not over.