Just days after Carlo Ancelotti’s first experience of the Premiership, the Italian experiences our longest domestic away trip as we head north to Sunderland, who unwittingly survived the purge of the North-East last season. Middlesbrough and Newcastle United may thankfully be gone, but Sunderland have started anew this season, and like Chelsea, have a new boss in the likeable Steve Bruce.
Both sides opened their league seasons with wins, Chelsea 2-1 at home to Hull and Sunderland 1-0 away at Bolton, with new signing Darren Bent scoring the only goal of the match. Bruce also dipped into the transfer market to shrewdly sign the combative Lee Cattermole, whose fondness for a scrap will endear him to the Sunderland faithful.
The home side have three players under an injury could heading into the Tuesday evening fixture, with Steed Malbranque suffering from an ankle injury, Kieran Richardson a dead leg and Andy Reid a thigh problem. Malbranque and Richardson will struggle to make the squad, though it is thought that Reid has a decent opportunity of being fit.
Chelsea meanwhile, will travel without Juliano Belletti, Alex and summer signing Yuri Zhirkov, all of whom should be fit for the weekend, whilst Paulo Ferreira and Joe Cole remain long term absentees. Sam Hutchinson will once more hope for a spot on the bench, having been included as a sub against Hull.
In team news, Sunderland will expect to retain the bulk of the side that did the job at The Reebok, including goalkeeper Martin Fulop, who made an excellent last minute save to preserve victory. With Craig Gordon firmly in the shadows, Fulop has the chance to make the first choice goalkeeping spot truly his own this season. Grant Leadbitter could start if Malbranque and Richardson are ruled out, whilst the big man/little man strike force of Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones will cause the Chelsea defence problems.
With strike partnerships back in vogue after a brief hiatus, Ancelotti will retain his diamond midfield, and therefore his two pronged attack of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka. However, expect Michael Ballack to start in place of John Obi Mikel, having replaced the young Nigerian at half time on the weekend. The more accomplished Ballack will probably play on the right, where his discipline is more conducive to preserving the shape of the diamond itself, whilst Essien would then harness his energies and play at the base. Expect the rest of the side to remain unchanged, though it is yet to be seen what Ancelotti has in store for Andriy Shevchenko, who looked sharp in America, but didn’t make the bench against Hull.
Last season’s corresponding fixture was the final match of the season, and saw Chelsea run away 3-2 winners, with goals from Anelka, Kalou and Ashley Cole. Kieran Richardson and Kenwyne Jones scored for the Black Cats. Anelka’s goal in that match was his nineteenth of the league season, enough to win him the golden boot, one goal ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Coincidentally, Sunderland have never won the first two league matches of the league season, whilst Chelsea have only failed to do so once in the past six years. Darren Bent is one goal away from 100 career league goals, in what will be his 252nd appearance, whilst Didier Drogba is just four goals away from 100 in the blue of Chelsea. The referee for this match will be Steve Bennett.