A team came to Stamford Bridge on Sunday and were fortunate to escape with just a 0-3 defeat. They were shown up by a tenacious side full of drive and desire; cutting and composed, fully deserving of the three points they earned. They were thoroughly whipped and embarrassed. Unfortunately – and somewhat surprisingly – it was Chelsea on the receiving end of the rout.
Sunday 14th November 2010 will go down in history as the day Sunderland destroyed the champions on their own patch. Nedum Onuoha, Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck scored the goals, but the nature of the Black Cats’ win means that the entire squad will take the plaudits. Chelsea had few heroes – indeed only Petr Cech can hold his head up high for keeping the score down after some stunning reflex saves. It’s not often the Czech stopper finishes the game having been the busiest man on the pitch, but then again, it’s even rarer that he picks the ball out of the back of his own net three times.
With Frank Lampard and Michael Essien missing through injury and suspension respectively, the midfield was always going to be firmly second-string, but the surprise inclusion of back-up (a generous term to use) right-back Paulo Ferreira at centre-back in place of the freshly crocked captain John Terry rang alarm bells from the moment the squad was announced. One of Ferreira’s rare appearances in the berth came in a forgettable defeat against Liverpool a few seasons back. Meanwhile, alleged bright prospect and natural centre-back Jeffrey Bruma was not considered suitable enough to take Terry’s place, and was left on a youthful-looking bench instead.
Chelsea’s front-three remained first-choice, but Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka were criminally under-used throughout, as Sunderland took control of the game, treating it like a match in front of their own fans at the Stadium of Light.
The lightweight Ramires and the continually below-par Yuri Zhirkov couldn’t prevent the away side breaking through the midfield, opening up chances for Welbeck and Kieran Richardson, two players with Manchester United links. Welbeck broke through in the first-half only to be crudely sent to the floor by last-man Branislav Ivanovic a good thirty or forty yards away from goal, but with a clear run which the pacy striker would have covered in a matter of seconds. The Serbian defender was lucky to escape with just a yellow, but the desperate nature of the challenge typified Chelsea’s plight.
Pace was a problem again shortly after when Onuhoa picked up the ball mid-way inside Chelsea’s half. Slaloming his way past a handful of Blues defenders, the right-back comfortably slotted past Cech – despairing at his threadbare defence – to give Sunderland a deserving lead. Fortress breached, as Chelsea conceded their first league goal of the season at the Bridge.
The half-time whistle came as a reprieve for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, but after the break the theme of the match continued. Sunderland pressed as Chelsea puffed, failing to connect with any killer passes, disappointingly resorting to aimless hoofs forward at times, which the away side cleared with ease. When Gyan picked up a Jordan Henderson through-ball and slid a shot past Cech for 2-0 just over five minutes into the second period, it was virtually game over as collective heads dropped in the gome side’s ranks.
Ancelotti looked to his bench, hoping for men but seeing only boys…and Salomon Kalou. The hapless Ivorian – who failed to control a through-ball played just inches away from his boot during one memorable moment – was joined by Josh McEachran and Gael Kakuta as impact substitutes, weighing around six stone between them and – through no fault of their own – too immature – and on this occasion, ineffective – to be called upon when the going gets tough.
But it was one of the elder statesmen of the Chelsea side who helped Sunderland put the icing on the cake right at the death. Ashley Cole played a blind ball across his own box, and with Cech caught in two minds, Gyan nipped in to make it 3-0.
Excuses are possible, with injuries and a general winter malaise the two most obvious, but the fact remains that there were enough first-choice players in the starting eleven to at least put up a fight. It’s difficult to pin-point exactly what the most disappointing aspect of the defeat is; the missed opportunity to go five points clear at the top of the Premier League? The lack of mettle shown? The desperation in terms of squad depth when we lose a couple of players?
But surely it’s the fact that a team has come to Stamford Bridge and not only won comprehensively, but fully deserved everything they got. Hats off to Sunderland, the worthy winners.