Chelsea are unwittingly involved in the relegation battle this season, as our final match of the season takes place at the Stadium of Light, against Sunderland. By the end of Sunday, two of Hull City, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United and Sunderland will be relegated, joining Tony Mowbray’s West Bromwich Albion, whose division bouncing continued for another season. Any number of scenarios can change which of these teams will go down, but for Sunderland, a point or three could be enough, as they are two spots out of the relegation zone. Albeit, this gap is just two points, with Hull one point behind and Newcastle one further back.
But let’s turn our attention to the game at hand, remembering that should Liverpool lose, and Chelsea thump Sunderland by a significant margin, we may well steal second place. Though it must be remembered that after the season we’ve had, a safe third spot is absolutely satisfying
Sunderland will be playing for their league survival, and Ricky Sbragia will have his side fired up, ready to get stuck in and scrap for their lives. Meanwhile, since our elimination from the Champions League, our fixture list has slowed as the season reaches its climax, so for Chelsea the focus will be on retaining the player’s physical condition for the FA Cup Final at Wembley next week.
Nicolas Anelka, one of the few beneficiaries of Scolari’s tenure, can win the golden boot should be score against Sunderland. With Ronaldo no certainty to even be in the squad as United face Hull City, one goal could be enough for our French striker to join Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink on our list of golden boot winners. With 18 goals so far this season, it has been said that in the absence of the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer, that the goals have dried up, however I’m sure you could get a decent price on Anelka hitting the 20 mark against the Black Cats. Added to that, in the reverse fixture this season, Anelka netted a hattrick in a 5-0 win at Stamford Bridge, the other goals scored by Alex and Frank Lampard.
In team news, the master manager Guus Hiddink has already spoken about injuries being a risk in football, but that this risk is reduced if a player is fully committed. This indicates that a strong, perhaps full strength side will take on Sunderland, making their battle more difficult still. Cech is a certainty to start in goal, whilst it will again be down to Ivanovic and Bosingwa for the right back spot. The remainder of the back four selects itself, with Carvalho still not fit. Michael Ballack has missed the last two league games through illness, though the German skipper is renowned as a big game player and will be hopeful of pressing his claims for a start in the Cup Final, probably in place of Obi Mikel in the holding midfield role. Ballack was exceptional in the home leg against Barcelona in the same role.
In attack, Florent Malouda has been a consistent selection for the last few months, though his form has warranted this, his intelligent wide play a feature of Chelsea’s play under Hiddink. With the long turnaround between matches, he will most likely be selected again, whilst the burgeoning striker partnership of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka get another chance to shine, whether in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2
Chelsea said goodbye to Guus Hiddink during the win against Blackburn at the Bridge last week. Against Sunderland, the travelling fans will get one more league opportunity to thank the football genius, and saviour of Chelsea’s season. However, it could well be the Sunderland fans waving goodbye at full time, both to Ricky Sbragia and to Premier League football.