Chelsea head to Sunderland, the last side to beat them in the Premier League, looking to extend their unbeaten start to the season. A 2-1 defeat to the Black Cats in April shattered Chelsea’s title chances, and ended Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten home league record.
The meetings with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light proved crucial too, with the Blues winning 4-3 in the league and losing 2-1 after extra time in the Capital One Cup, despite leading for most of the game. After those two results, Mourinho decided to adopt a more defensive approach, which got his side back in the title race.
This weekend’s game is just as crucial, with second facing third on Sunday, when Manchester City travel to Southampton. At least one of those sides are going to drop points, meaning a win here could further enhance the advantage the league leaders hold. This also kicks off an important week for Chelsea, with three games in the next seven days, including two trips up to the North East.
After the trip to Sunderland, the Blues return home for a game against rivals London Tottenham, before they are off up north again to face Newcastle at St James’ Park. With three games in such a short space of time, including some pretty big journeys, we might be seeing a little squad rotation over the next week.
If there is some rotation, it’ll probably come later in the week. Mourinho is likely to keep faith with much of the side that started against Schalke and which put on such an impressive performance. Diego Costa limped off during that game, but the manager said he expects the Spaniard to be fit again for the weekend’s match.
The midfield five is unlikely to change, with Willian on the right the only one not guaranteed a start. Given his fantastic performance on Wednesday night, it’s hard to see Mourinho dropping him for an out-of-form Andre Schurrle. Eden Hazard, Oscar, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas should all keep their places for this one.
Chelsea have changed their regular back line just once this season, so expect to see the similar faces of John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta start ahead of Thibaut Courtois. We could see the likes of Filipe Luis come in for either of the full backs over the next week, but Azpilicueta is likely to start here.
As for Sunderland, they’re likely to be without former Chelsea man Patrick Van Aanholt and ex-Juventus midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini. The Black Cats are 14th in the table, just three points above the drop zone, and they’ve drawn over half their league games so far. This game is another test of how the Blues cope against sides who defend deep, while it kicks off the start of a crazy month, with 10 games coming between this and New Year’s Day. While the squad should be used to playing twice a week, it will be interesting to see how they cope with that many games.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-0