Chelsea began life without Jose Mourinho by returning to winning ways with a 3-1 victory over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge.
A dismal start to the Premier League campaign culminated in the Portuguese coach parting company with the club on Thursday following back-to-back domestic defeats against AFC Bournemouth and leaders Leicester City.
Guus Hiddink was appointed as his replacement until the end of the season in the hours leading up to Saturday’s match, but he watched from the stands while Steve Holland and Eddie Newton took charge of first-team affairs.
Support for the departed Mourinho, who claimed three Premier League titles during two spells at Chelsea, was evident in the form of banners and chants from the home faithful, while Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa had their names booed ahead of kick-off and when they were substituted due to their below-par performances this term.
The crowd were quickly back onside, however, when Branislav Ivanovic opened the scoring with five minutes on the clock, while Pedro netted his first top-flight goal since August to put Chelsea 2-0 up after 13 minutes.
Oscar added to Chelsea’s lead from the penalty spot early in the second half, and, although Fabio Borini pulled one back against his former club, Sunderland were unable to mount a comeback and remain in the relegation zone following a third straight defeat.
Chelsea made two changes from Monday’s loss at Leicester, with Fabregas and Pedro in for Ramires and Eden Hazard, who missed out with a hip injury, while Sam Allardyce restored Younes Kaboul, Jack Rodwell and Jermain Defoe to his line-up.
The defending Premier League champions took just five minutes to get off the mark, Ivanovic getting away from Sebastian Coates to steer a header from Willian’s corner past Costel Pantilimon and into the top corner.
Eight minutes later Chelsea extended their lead when Coates failed to deal with an Ivanovic cross and Pedro reacted quickly, pouncing on the loose ball and slamming it into the top corner.
The hosts remained on top and in control of possession, so Allardyce replaced Coates with Adam Johnson midway through the half and switched to a four-man defence.
Sunderland continued to struggle defensively and a good save from Pantilimon in the 26th minute stopped Oscar from adding to Chelsea’s tally after he waltzed into the box from deep.
The visitors passed up a chance to pull one back through Duncan Watmore, while Costa missed the target twice, the second of which was from a back-post header from just outside the six-yard box, before the interval.
It was 3-0 five minutes after the restart when Pantilimon brought down Willian inside the box and Oscar slotted home from the subsequent penalty.
Sunderland were unperturbed and three minutes later Borini, a half-time substitute, reduced the deficit when he was in the right place to bundle Thibaut Courtois’ parry from a Kaboul header into the back of the net.
The goal made Chelsea look vulnerable defensively, but Defoe was unable to capitalise and set up a tense finale when he sliced wide in the 68th minute.
Loic Remy was denied by Pantilimon 10 minutes from time and Defoe forced Courtois into a save with a deflected strike from the edge of the box with two minutes remaining, but the defending champions had done enough to temporarily put additional room between themselves and the relegation zone.
Key Opta stats:
– Fabio Borini has scored in both of his Premier League appearances for Sunderland at Stamford Bridge.
– Chelsea scored more goals in this game (3) than they did in their final five Premier League games under Jose Mourinho (2).
– Sunderland have picked up just five points in their last 11 Premier League away games (W1 D2 L8).
– The Black Cats have conceded the most goals (33) and have allowed their opponents the most shots on target (106) in the Premier League this season.