Match Review: Chelsea at Sunderland #SUNCHE
Top of the League and having a Beer
Stadium of Light | December 14th 2016
The Blues didn’t have to “dig deep” for this one, it wasn’t a case of breaking down a staunch defence, it was just…what was that exactly? I tell you what it was, it was 10 in a row, another clean sheet, 6 points clear and top of the league on Christmas. FUN FACT: Chelsea have gone on to win the league all 4 times they have been top of the league on Christmas. London’s premier club expectedly deployed it’s winning 3-4-3 but the real news was in the line up as Fabregas replaced Matic to start the game. Those of us (like me) who were hoping to see David Luiz rested would have been surprised to see the back three unchanged; Azpilicueta, Luiz and Cahill have played every minute of every match since September. The most surprising change though was Eden Hazard who was not involved with the squad having picked up a minor knock in the previous game. Willian made his first league start since September in place of the Belgian on the right side of the forward three while Pedro switched over to the left of Costa.
I’ve decided not to break this report into first and second halves as there was nothing particular about any of them, instead I aim to provide the overall picture of the game and highlight the key moments.
Of all the wins in Chelsea’s “La Decima “(ha!), this was the most uninspiring. As mentioned earlier there was nothing particularly difficult about this match up. Sunderland are the league’s worst team, and for that reason many feared that they would look to replicate West Bromwich’s tactic of defending in a low block and completely frustrating Chelsea but that wasn’t the case at all. David Moyes in his wisdom opted to mirror the 3-4-3 and Sunderland did not look to go full-parked bus. It was surprising bold and oddly reassuring because it made for all the trappings of a comfortable Chelsea win, perhaps like Everton. Comfortable a win though it was, it was not straightforward. The famed “well-oiled machine” looked rather lacklustre on the day save for a few, perhaps due to the demands of playing two games in quick succession. The first half was a lull, both teams failed to create any real chances. Chelsea had most of the possession as expected, but did nothing meaningful with it. There was just some energy missing, no real oomf to the game play overall. To be fair some of that was definitely due to Chelsea legend Papy Djilobodji and his partner Lamine Kone's defensive efforts on Costa. Jason Denayer was also a torn in the midfield, constantly denying what seemed inevitable with a crucial interception here and there and doing just enough to keep Fabregas and Kante alert.
Chelsea’s goal eventually came though; Kante - who was so energetic and effective through out the game it seemed he just returned from a holiday - won a header in midfield leaving the ball to Pedro, who escaped the attentions of two defenders just in time to square the ball off to Fabregas. The magician spread it wide to Willian who returned the ball with just the perfect weight for Fabregas to wrap his foot around and curl it low, hard and around the diving Pickford. This was in the 40th minute and with 50 minutes of game to go there was a sense of floodgates being opened. Chelsea did come back in the second half looking to score more goals, and on another night they would probably have, but the attacking unit just seemed off the pace. Perhaps this was due to Hazard being such a key part of that attacking chemistry or Diego being a little exhausted, whichever the case Chelsea just couldn’t find the final pass or hit the final shot
Only 6 of Chelsea’s 19 shots were on target, which is shocking given our recent attacking form, but it did not cost us three points due to one Thibaut Courtois. The Chelsea keeper who for the most part has had very little to do since September was all action today once making pointblank save on Adnan Januzaj’s shot look routine and then making a spectacular match winning stop in added time when double agent Patrick Van Aanholt forgot his mission and swung a potentially heart breaking shot from close range in search of Sunderland’s equalizer.
And so it ended 1-0. 24 goals scored, 2 conceded and 8 clean sheets in 10 games. We have now equaled our best ever run over a single season and look to break the club record against struggling Crystal Palace who just lost 2-1 to the manager who was oversaw our first 10 matching winning streak. Regardless of that result Chelsea will be top on Christmas due to number 4 bottling it against Everton yesterday.
David Luiz did not have too much to do but he still looks like he could use a rest, perhaps Zouma’s welcome presence on the bench today was a sign of some much-needed rotation in the back line. Glad to see Zouma back and ready for action. Kante was my man of the match before that save from Courtois, the midfield machine looked so fresh, agile and energetic all game making all kinds of tackles and interceptions. Fabregas certainly made a case for himself with his performance tonight - and with his post match interview. It seems settled now that he is very much in Conte’s plans. Matic will probably come back in the next game but who else will join him? What rotations will be made? Will Diego Costa get a rest? Find out on Saturday, when Chelsea take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
KEEP THE BLUE FLAG FLYING HIGH #KTBFFH. Top of the league and having a beer