On Saturday evening, Chelsea take a trip to the Stadium of Light to take on Sunderland. Last season, it was the Black Cats who ended Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten streak at home with a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge that helped them avoid relegation. This season, Sunderland find themselves right back in the relegation battle, but the positive is that a number of teams are struggling for points, as well.
For Chelsea, they’ll be looking to continue their unbeaten record this season, having only dropped 8 points in all competitions. Their 32 points from a possible 36 represents the best start in the club’s history, and it has given them a 6-point gap from second-placed Southampton and an 8-point gap to their biggest title threat, Manchester City. Even more ominous for Sunderland and the rest of the league, Chelsea enter this match on the back of two of their best performances of the season. Against West Brom last Saturday, the Blues thoroughly dominated the Baggies for the first 45 minutes. The 2-0 score line didn’t tell the story of the match, as the Blues could have had five or six by the end of the first half. In Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday night, Chelsea dominated a Schalke side who had fought to a 1-1 draw in their first meeting. The 5-0 score line was one of the biggest wins away from home, but in truth, Schalke were never in the match, and the score could have been much worse.
Sunderland will be looking to stop that unbeaten run, just as they stopped Mourinho’s unbeaten run at home. In addition, the Black Cats were a bit of a bogey team for the Blues last season, not only ending Mourinho’s unbeaten run, but also knocking them out of the League Cup. It was also the 4-3 win from Chelsea at the Stadium of Light last season that saw Mourinho declare that he had to go back to basics and prompted his return to a more pragmatic style. They’ll be looking to repeat their two wins over the Blues and get a much-needed 3 points.
Gus Poyet’s side looked to kick on from last season’s escape, but their biggest problem still remains.
Last season, Sunderland’s biggest issue was scoring enough goals to win, or even draw, matches. The absence of Steven Fletcher for a lot of the 2013-2014 season was a big blow to Gus Poyet, as he was Sunderland’s leading goal scorer the previous year. This season, Fletcher is back and fit, and the strikers are still not firing. Their 12 league goals this season is only ahead of Aston Villa, QPR, Leicester, and Burnley – three of whom were promoted this season and are propping up the table – and just one more than Diego Costa’s total in the league for this season. Even worse, Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham have scored half of those goals between the two of them, meaning goals have been slim pickings from the rest of the squad.
That doesn’t bode well for Sunderland, who are coming up against the second-best defence in the Premier League, though Chelsea’s clean-sheet record will have them hopeful of having a chance to find the goals. However, they haven’t found the net in five of their last eight matches, so that might be a big ask.
Gus Poyet’s signings haven’t really given his Sunderland side the effect that he would have wanted.
After staying the Premier League after such an abysmal campaign, Poyet looked to strengthen a side that did struggle for goals by adding a bit more creativity and the threat of goals from midfield. He brought in Jordi Gomez from Wigan and Jack Rodwell from Manchester City in the hopes of bringing in a bit more quality. That hasn’t happened, as Rodwell has looked nowhere near the player that he was before the transfer to City, and Gomez hasn’t really provided the creative spark needed to create scoring chances.
However, he has made a few astute signings at the back. Santiago Vergini has looked all right at the back, despite scoring what might be the own goal of the season, and he did bring in former Chelsea left-back Patrick van Aanholt. However, both John O’Shea and Wes Brown remain as the lynchpins of that defence, and that is still a cause for worry, as both our well into their 30s.
Can Chelsea take advantage of another meltdown by Sunderland?
8-0 – that was the final score line when the Black Cats visited Southampton in a defeat that left Poyet fuming in his postmatch press meetings. On that day, Sunderland simply capitulated and essentially gave up, leading to a humbling defeat. The week after against Arsenal, they fought valiantly, but gave the Gunners two goals via mistakes and again met defeat.
Since then, they’ve rebounded with a win over Crystal Palace and draws against Everton and Leicester. However, they struggled for those draws, and you wonder if they are one bad performance away from another mental breakdown.
A visit from Chelsea won’t bode well for them, particularly because this Chelsea side has yet to put a true beating on anyone in the Premier League. The signs are there for someone to be on the end of one, and you wonder how Sunderland cope if the Blues are able to score an early goal. Will they push on, determined to get a point, or will they look beaten and wilt away and give up another 8-0 defeat?