Andre Villas-Boas’ first big tactical call of his reign proved a masterstroke as Daniel Sturridge scored an outrageous winner at the Stadium of Light.
The young Englishman was the big talking point before the game, as he returned from his three match ban picked up whilst on loan at Bolton, and found himself thrust straight into the starting eleven at the expense of Fernando Torres, the Spaniard having to make do with a cameo appearance this week.
It was a refreshing performance in that far more positive than negatives were on show, with full debuts for Juan Mata and deadline day signing Raul Meireles, and both showing their class against an underwhelming Black Cats side.
Mata’s link up play through out will be a breath of fresh air to Chelsea fans, as finally it seems we have a player capable of unlocking defences. Mind you, it was the deeper lying Meireles who must be given as many plaudits, as it was his vision and pass that put Sturridge in for the Blues’ second goal of the afternoon.
It could’ve been a different story however, had Sunderland and new boy Nicklas Bendtner had made the most of a free header early on. That chance, plus one parried effort from Sessegnon was all the home side offered in the first period as Chelsea dominated the play.
Nicolas Anelka twice went close, first after the a standard blistering change of pace from Ramires and a nice pass from Mata saw him fire wide, and then stinging the hands of Sunderland goalkeeper Mignolet with a fierce shot. Ramires also went close himself with a curling effort after another surge.
But despite all the freshness and swagger about Chelsea’s attack, the goal came from the back; John Terry cooling slotting home at the second attempt after being found by Sturridge. In truth Sunderland will feel that should’ve done better, given that their were 7 red and white shirts in the box, but the skipper took the ball down and finished well for a deserved lead.
The killer blow came six minutes after the break, and what a blow it was, with Sturridge racing onto Meireles pass, appearing to go beyond keeper Mignolet, only to backheel the ball back passed the keeper and send it trickling into the corner beyond a despairing Wes Brown. Cue the customary Sturridge dance moves.
The Black Cats did manage a stoppage time goal through Ji Dong-Won after a piece of mis-control by Bendtner but it was too late and Blues record their third win on the bounce climb to third in the Premier League table.
Villas-Boas now has a nice selection problem ahead of the huge trip to Old Trafford next week, with Sturridge on song, and Didier Drogba expected to return means choosing a front man will be top of his of priorities this week. The rest of the side already looks settled, with Meireles and Mata slotting in effortlessly, and with a bench today that included Torres, David Luiz and Florent Malouda, the Blues are hardly short of depth.
It already looks like subtle changes are taking place at Stamford Bridge with a shift away form dependency on the likes of Lampard and Drogba, and next Sunday could well prove to be the first big test of the AVB’s evolution in SW6.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cole, Bosingwa, Terry, Ramires, Lampard, Meireles, Mata (Torres 74), Sturridge (Malouda 62), Anelka (Romeu 79)
Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley (Elmohamady 62), Brown, Richardson, Bramble, Cattermole (Wickham 65), Larsson, Gardner, Colback, Sessegnon (Ji Dong-Won 82), Bendtner
Man of the Match: Daniel Sturridge