Chelsea will travel up to Sunderland with either one of the biggest transfer deadline day signings of all time, or the same squad which looked in urgent need of freshening up when January began.
With deadline day upon us Fernando Torres is still caught in limbo and stuck kicking his heels at Liverpool, but life must go on and a supposedly improving Chelsea side will be aiming to avenge a crushing defeat which Sunderland inflicted upon them at Stamford Bridge. The 0-3 reverse came slap bang in the middle of our ‘difficult moment’, and even saw the release of a commemorative DVD which replayed all ninety agonising minutes for the benefit of our friends in the North.
That was back in November and Chelsea have undergone some kind of rejuvenation since then. Until the fairly dismal 1-1 draw against Everton on Saturday, 7-0, 2-0 and 4-0 wins over Ipswich Town, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers had returned a few smiles to SW6. Sunderland meanwhile have carried on their solid Premier League season and currently sit a worthy sixth in the table, just a point behind supposed title contenders Tottenham Hotspur.
Unbeaten in the league throughout January, Sunderland were of course victims of the transfer window however. Top scorer Darren Bent decided he wanted a bigger house fresh challenge and moved to Aston Villa in an extremely quick deal, not like one being negotiated by Chelsea. Paolo da Silva and David Healy have also left Sunderland to very little fanfare.
Steve Bruce has been busy replacing his outgoing players however, with Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Stephane Sessegnon recently joining Sulley Muntari from Inter Milan in making the move to the Stadium of Light.
But while Bent was very much the figurehead of Sunderland’s attack last season, scoring half of his side’s total Premier League goals, they have been shared around the strikers a bit more this campaign. Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck have managed thirteen of Sunderland’s 28 so far, with four each during home games. Interestingly enough, Gyan has scored most of his goals in the second-half of Sunderland’s matches.
Jordan Henderson, Nedum Onuoha, Ahmed Elmohamady and Bolo Zenden – a player fondly remembered at Chelsea albeit for his sporadic quality rather than consistency – lead the way in terms of assists.
Bruce is without some of his usual first-teamers however, with Welbeck missing through a hamstring injury which is likely to keep him out until March; Michael Turner has a knee injury while Lee Cattermole may not make the starting line-up as he is suffering from a back problem.
Apart from the long-term trio of Alex, Yossi Benayoun and Yuri Zhirkov, Carlo Ancelotti has no new injury concerns to worry about. Needless to say, the Italian manager will pick the same side as he always does, swapping Ramires for John Obi Mikel if he fancies it.
Expect Cech, Bosingwa, Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, Essien, Mikel, Lampard, Malouda, Anelka and Drogba to start, with Salomon Kalou coming on late in the second-half.
Aside from the 0-3 debacle earlier this season, Chelsea have a fine record when it comes to meetings with Sunderland. Ignoring this season – which many sceptical fans believe we should be doing anyway – the Blues had gone twelve games unbeaten against the Black Cats, scoring a massive 34 goals in the process.
This run included a 7-2 win last season at the Bridge, in which Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack all netted to help Chelsea on their way to the Premier League title. The last Stadium of Light win for Sunderland was back in October 2000 when a Kevin Phillips penalty proved to be the difference between the two sides. Graeme Le Saux saw red that day for Chelsea, while the game also saw Winston Bogarde make an appearance from the bench, replacing Frank Leboeuf after 31 minutes. Honestly.
Sunderland did the double over Chelsea that season, winning 4-2 at the Bridge with goals from Don Hutchinson (two), Gavin McCann and Phillips cancelling out a Marcel Desailly opener and an Eidur Gudjohnsen goal which had put Chelsea 2-1 up for the half-time break. John Terry replaced Albert Ferrer after 70 minutes. Chelsea went on to finish sixth that season; Sunderland four points behind in seventh.
So, while the transfer deadline day goes crazy with last-ditch moves and the odd scorcher, Chelsea fans are left wondering if they really will be seeing Torres line-up alongside Didier Drogba for the months ahead. He could be the shot in the arm the squad really needs, but lest we forget the real action is on the pitch, starting with Sunderland on Tuesday night. They are not the side they once were and will no doubt put up a fight. Time for the real Chelsea to return, we have certain people we would really like to impress.