Steve Bruce has warned his players that English Premier League champions Chelsea come to Sunderland on Tuesday in ‘Big Four’ mood.
The Sunderland manager said: “It’s very unusual to see Chelsea 10 points off the table of the table but the big boys usually come through like trains later in the season.”
“And it’s Chelsea to me who look as though they are most likely to get a real head of steam going and start pushing through.”
“They’ve won three games in a row comfortably and they’ll be looking to come to the Stadium of Light tomorrow to prove a point after we beat them down there.”
Bruce, who is likely to include new signings Stephane Sessegnon and Sulley Muntari in his squad, knows from his own playing days that the turn of the year is usually when the best teams finally start showing their heels to the rest of the pack.
He said: “When I was at Manchester United we would always look to go on a good run in the New Year.”
“It was when the best teams suddenly found their very best form. Things click and you really start producing your best.”
“I can definitely see that happening to Chelsea.”
Bruce’s biggest selection dilemma tomorrow will be where to deploy Kieran Richardson.
The club’s ‘Mr Versatility’ was the star of the show in Sunderland’s last Premier League game, playing just behind main striker Asamoah Gyan at Blackpool and scoring two classy goals in the sparkling 2-1 win on January 22.
The natural inclination would be not to tinker with a winning team.
But Bruce’s masterstroke in Sunderland’s 3-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in November was to select Richardson on the right wing to contain the attacking threat of the Blues’ England right-back Ashley Cole.
Bruce has been absorbed in his pursuit of Inter Milan’s Muntari and Paris St Germain’s Sessegnon and is thrilled to get his two targets of the transfer window.
But he insists he has not taken his eye off the ball when it comes to the Chelsea game
“All people have wanted to talk about is transfers and I can understand that – that’s what you get with the January transfer window, particularly when it starts coming to the end of it,” he said.
“We can’t guarantee a good result, but hopefully we can guarantee a good performance and if we can do that, then I’ll be happy to accept whatever the night brings.”