Can struggling Sunderland deliver a blow to Chelsea’s title hopes with an unlikely win at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday night? It’s a rare return to meaningful midweek action for the Blues, who are missing out on European action this term. This is the start of a busy December for Antonio Conte’s side. The Italian is going to have to get used to English football’s packed festive period of frequent fixtures. It could come as quite a culture shock for a man well used to the European winter break.
A narrow, hard-fought win over West Brom at the weekend kept the Blues top of the Premier League table. They have a three point advantage over second placed Arsenal, and a full seven point cushion between themselves and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Meanwhile, Sunderland are now rock bottom in the top flight, as they can’t seem to get away from the relegation battle. Can they record a shock win over the leaders, or will they be pushed even closer to the drop here?
Team News: Conte planning midweek rotation?
Chelsea make this trip without too many worries at the back. John Terry is once again available for selection, but he’s not likely to make a start here. We could see a few changes in this game, given their fixture schedule. They’ve played two of six December fixtures, with a trip to Spurs to come in the opening days of 2017. Expect the 3-4-3 to stay, but we could see a couple of stars given a break.
Given his recent performances, Cesc Fabregas will be pushing for a starting slot. He impressed at the Etihad, and he was unlucky not to start against West Brom at the weekend. He could well step in for Nemanja Matic once again. He could replace N’Golo Kante, if Conte decides to rest the Frenchman. We also wouldn’t be surprised to see a little rotation in the wide positions, as they are key, demanding roles which will be tested this month.
Sunderland have a few worries in midfield, with Jack Rodwell and Lee Cattermole both unavailable for this clash. Paddy McNair and Duncan Watmore both miss out; they’re set to spend the rest of the season on the sidelines for the Black Cats. They’ve been finding joy of late with Victor Anichebe and Jermain Defoe up top, but expect them to change for this one. It’s hard to see them playing two strikers against the Blues. Conte’s system tends to pack the midfield, so it should do well against a 4-4-2. It’s hard to see David Moyes giving his opponents that opportunity.
Sunderland slipped back to the bottom of the Premier League over the weekend. Their 3-0 defeat at Swansea was a total humiliation for the Black Cats, who had started to climb back up the table. They would have been out of the bottom three with a result in Wales on Saturday. However, they are now propping up the league, which isn’t a position which any side would want to be in coming up to Christmas. The side bottom in December tends to end up dropping down to the Championship.
Sunderland have taken three victories from their last five games, which includes back to back wins at the Stadium of Light. Those have been against Hull and Leicester, two of the worst away sides in the division. Will that be a platform for the Black Cats to build on, or were they just favourable results against teams who tend to suffer defeat on the road anyway? A game against Chelsea isn’t exactly the time to judge that, but it’ll certainly be a much bigger test for Moyes and co than their recent home matches have been. The Blues have won four straight away league matches, conceding just one goal in that time.
Sunderland v Chelsea Head to Head
Chelsea’s recent record against Sunderland is a lot more mixed than it should be. Conte will be looking for his side to avoid a recent trend in these fixtures; the home team have scored three times in the last three encounters. It’s hard to see that happening here, the hosts average just 0.93 goals per game in the Premier league this season. Of course, this is a very different Chelsea side from the one which lost 3-2 in the North East in May last season.
- Sunderland 3-2 Chelsea, May 2016
- Chelsea 3-1 Sunderland, Dec 2015
- Chelsea 3-1 Sunderland, May 2015
- Sunderland 0-0 Chelsea, Nov 2014
- Chelsea 1-2 Sunderland, Apr 2014
- Chelsea to Win to Nil – 6/5 with Bet365
- Draw/Chelsea HT/FT – 17/5 with BetVictor
Having won nine straight games, Chelsea come into this trip as 3/10 favourites to claim all three points. However, the West Brom game showed that they can be frustrated. They once again impressed at the back, keeping their seventh clean sheet in their last nine league matches. It seems Conte has brought his Italian defensive steel with him to Stamford Bridge.
The Blues have a fantastic defensive record all season, conceding just 11 times in their 15 matches so far. Nine of those goals came in the first six, too. We’ve already mentioned Sunderland’s poor attacking record; we can see them being the latest side to be blunted by this strong Blues backline. We’re also backing this winning run to continue, so we’re going with an away win and clean sheet at 6/5 with Bet365.
While we see a Chelsea win, this won’t be an easy one. Sunderland will still be confident here after their recent home wins, and they’ll be buoyed by West Brom’s display at the Bridge. The Black Cats can keep this one tight early on, with the break through coming in the second half. Sunderland concede 71% of their home goals in the second 45, while Chelsea score 75% of their away goals after half-time. That’s why we’re going for Draw/Chelsea on the half-time/full-time market. It’s well priced at 17/5 with Bet Victor.