The festive period has always proven to be one of the toughest stretches in a Premier League season. On current form, Chelsea could easily find themselves creating some distance between themselves and their title rival, as the Blues recorded their 10th consecutive win with a 1-0 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of light.
A world-class finish from Cesc Fabregas and a world-class save from Thibault Courtois provided Chelsea with a vital three points that sends them six points clear at the top of the table and guaranteed to be the league leaders on Christmas Day.
The Blues weren’t at their best and perhaps felt the absence of Eden Hazard a little bit, with the Belgian missing out due to an injury sustained on Sunday against West Bromwich Albion.
Willian is a perfectly fine deputy for Hazard, but especially in the early stages, it felt as if the Blues were missing that little bit of sparkle that was needed to break down a stingy Sunderland side.
But Sunderland’s biggest issue is an inability to score goals, and in the first half, they never really troubled Courtois.
Chelsea have no such problems, and could have taken the lead on the half-hour mark. Marcos Alonso took advantage of Adnan Januzaj’s failure to track his runs, and whipped in a cross for Diego Costa who failed to make proper contact and sliced his volley wide. On form, you would have expected him to score.
Fabregas, starting in place of Nemanja Matic, demonstrated that he still is an important member of the squad. An exchange of passes with Willian created space for the Spaniard’s shot, and he expertly passed it just inside the post beyond a despairing Jordan Pickford.
Despite the goal, Sunderland came out for the second half with a greater intensity. The Black Cats could have been level in the first minute of the second half. Jermain Defoe, normally on the end of chances, galloped forward and played in Januzaj on the overlapping run. Januzaj bore down on goal, but Courtois was equal to the task and saved.
Sunderland nearly paid for that missed chance minutes later when Willian skipped past Lamina Kone and saw his shot deflect off former Chelsea defender Papy Djilobodji’s knee and off the crossbar.
The Blues continued to press for that second goal. A trademark ball over the top of the defence found Diego Costa racing clear on goal, but Kone was able to recover and shoulder the striker off the ball. Victor Moses also got into the act with a few skewed shots just wide of the post.
But Sunderland firmly believed they might have snatched a point at the death when the ball left Patrick van Aanholt’s left foot. Chelsea dealt with a free kick, but the resulting clearance landed at the feet of the former Chelsea fullback. His left-footed shot look destined for the back of the goal, even van Aanholt was wheeling away in celebration, when the outstretched fingers of Courtois diverted the ball around the post and secured the three points.