Chelsea visit Sunderland for the second time this month as the sides battle it out for a place in the League Cup semi-final. In the last encounter (on 4th December) the sides played out a thrilling match which the Blues edged 4-3, but Jose Mourinho will be hoping for a much more controlled display from his side at the Stadium of Light this time around.
Two goals from Eden Hazard, one from Frank Lampard and an own goal from Phil Bardsley were enough to get the three points for the Pensioners against Gus Poyet’s men, despite the home side grabbing goals through Jozy Altidore, John O’Shea and Bardsley, who was swift to make amends for putting it in his own net.
Sunderland have enjoyed home draws in the three previous rounds of the League Cup, beating Milton Keynes Dons 4-2, Peterborough United 2-0 and Southampton 2-1. Chelsea, meanwhile, have been drawn away in the two previous rounds, winning both 2-0 at Swindon and – more impressively – Arsenal.
Chelsea moved to within two points of table toppers Arsenal (whom they visit in their next league match on Monday 23rd December) as they narrowly beat a plucky Crystal Palace side at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. The Gunners, meanwhile, lost 6-3 in an amazing match at the Eithad, a result which blasts the title race wide open.
The Blues had the lion’s share of possession against Palace, but Tony Pulis has got the Eagles playing well and the visitors showed courage and determination as they kept attacking Chelsea. Had the home side taken all the chances they created in the first half, they would have had the match won by the break, as has been a recurrent scenario of late. But goals from Fernando Torres and Ramires were enough to get the three points despite Marouane Chamakh volleying a decent goal for Palace.
While Mourinho would clearly prefer to win the Premier League or Champions League, he wouldn’t be averse to picking up the League Cup again (after winning it with Chelsea in the 2004-05 and 2006-07 seasons). And though his side were run close on their last visit, we think they will do a lot better this time around.
Mourinho is sure to rest some of his first team players as he seeks to avoid injuries with a trip to Arsenal looming, but his squad is deep enough to be able to do that and still get the result. Especially as Sunderland have a massive relegation six-pointer against Norwich on Saturday, which could encourage Poyet to rest some of his key players – and they certainly don’t have the depth in their squad for their second string to cope with Chelsea.
Chelsea have beaten Sunderland in each of the last six league meetings between them and we think they will do so again here in the cup. As the Black Cats will certainly give this one a good go we think another goalfest is on the cards, but with slightly more breathing room for the Blues.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 4-2