7th December 2012
The two sides are in a very similar position at the moment, even if they find themselves at the opposite ends of the Premier League standings. Sunderland desperately need to show some improvement after winning just one of their last ten games, whereas Chelsea might feel the same given they are out of the Champions League and winless in last seven league fixtures.
Even if the Black Cats were tipped for a mid table finish before the season started, the reality is they have looked genuine relegation strugglers in most of the fixtures this term. The lack of creativity in midfield and Martin O’Neill’s defence-minded tactics have seen Sunderland slip to 17th in the overall standings, and everything suggests they will find themselves in the bottom three unless they can beat Chelsea. Things are not looking good after yet another defeat to a bottom table side, while Sunderland’s dismal home form (0-2-3 in last five) only adds to the worries. To make matters worse, first choice striker Steven Fletcher is struggling with an ankle problem, although he might be able to play with a pain-killing injection. John O’Shea also faces a fitness test, while Lee Cattermole is definitely out. With very important match against Reading scheduled for Tuesday, there is every chance the Black Cats will attempt to save some energy for the relegation six-pointer.
I have to admit I was shocked by Roman Abramovich’s decision to replace Roberto Di Matteo with Rafa Benitez, a man who was never going to be receive a warm welcome by the club fans. Taking also into account his defence-minded style of play, everybody could see the Spaniard was not the man for the job, however, the players have no choice but to do what they are told. With this being the last game before the Blues jet off to Club World Cup in Japan, the players might just rise above the occasion and produce a solid showing at the Stadium of Light, with 6-1 win over Nordsjaelland likely to act as an additional confidence boost. The Champions League winners were knocked out of Europe’s elite competition despite the impressive triumph, but such a scenario had looked likely even before the final round of fixtures. John Terry and Frank Lampard are both out of the Sunderland game, but Daniel Sturridge should be back in contention.
Sunderland players are completely out of confidence following a dismal run of results and Martin O’Neill could save several players carrying knocks for the all-important clash against Reading. Chelsea finally returned to winning ways and they should have enough in them to see off struggling Black Cats.
Verdict: Away win Chelsea (2)
Best Odds: 4/5
Bookmaker: William Hill