As per Euro Club Index, given their current form, Chelsea are likely to finish the season as winners. They have a 47.7% chance of finishing at the top, followed by Arsenal with a 33% chance, Man City with a 10% chance and Liverpool with 7.3% chance. Their points tally is predicted to be 81. The same site predicts that Sunderland are relegation favorites – predicted to finish at the bottom with a mere 33 points. These are the two sides that meet mid-week on Wednesday night at the Stadium of Light. On the face of it, it seems like a straight forward, easy win for Conte’s men. But then this is the Premier League, where unpredictability reigns supreme. So Chelsea would be wise to not become complacent.
Sunderland had started their season as if they were bent on tasting Championship football. It took ten games in 2 and a half months of league football for the Black Cats to win their first match this season. Indeed they have scored the second fewest goals this season with 13 in fifteen matches. As per WhoScored, Sunderland literally do not have any strengths worth mentioning. But since the start of November, their form has improved a bit as they beat Bournemouth, Hull and Leicester in a four match run prior to this Saturday’s game against Swansea. And then just when it seemed that their relegation battle had started much earlier this season, the Black Cats promptly lost 3-0 at the Liberty Stadium to re-establish their position at the bottom of the table.
Chelsea meanwhile, looked as if they had lost their way a bit when to lost to Liverpool at home and to Arsenal at the Emirates. However, since that game versus Arsenal, the Blues have gone on a nine game winning streak, lining up in a 3-4-3 formation and destroying many top defenses including Manchester United, Man City, and Tottenham on the way. Now they sit at the top of the table, three points clear of Arsenal and six points clear of the third placed Liverpool and they face four relatively easy fixtures against Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Stoke in the next 20 days. Chelsea would be hoping to win all these fixtures to ensure that they start the year 2017 with a very healthy lead at the top of the table.
It is unlikely that David Moyes makes too many changes to the side that lost at the Liberty Stadium, especially at the back and at the front. Whatever changes Moyes rings in, they are likely to be in the midfield – possibly bringing Kirschoff and Januzaj in place of Denayer and Pienaar respectively.
Conte might also be reluctant to change his side too much from the side that secured a narrow victory over Tony Pulis’ West Brom. It is possible that he rewards Willian’s recent performances with a start as a replacement for Pedro, who has been a bit flat in the last couple of games. It is also possible that Chelsea bring in Fabregas in place of Matic as a more creative player could have more of an impact against a defensive Sunderland side.
- Chelsea have more points after 15 game weeks than any other team in the last five seasons.
- Sunderland beat Chelsea 3-2 in this exact fixture last season. The Black Cats have also beaten the Blues thrice in last six encounters across all competitions.
- Jermain Defoe has a unique record of having scored at least one Premier League goal against Chelsea for four clubs – West Ham, Tottenham, Portsmouth and Sunderland.
David Moyes’ team depends completely on one player to score goals for them – Jermain Defoe. Defoe has scored 8 goals out of a team total of 13 and has also assisted two of the other five goals i.e. in 15 matches he has contributed to 77% of Sunderland’s goals. But for his amazing contribution, Sunderland could have been far worse off than their current score of 11 points. Defoe acts as the focal point for all of Sunderland’s attacks – especially the ones where they break quickly. After a poor outing against Swansea, Sunderland fans will be hoping that Defoe can score and guide them up the league table.
While most of the attention in this Chelsea team has gone to the goal scoring prowess and improved behavior of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard has gone a bit quiet since his brace against Everton on 5th November. He did score the third goal against a hapless Manchester City in the 90th minute but City were on the mat and it did not need Hazard to exhibit his brilliance in scoring that goal. I believe that Hazard’s performance will be key for Chelsea in breaking down a defense-minded Sunderland side who will not mind parking the bus in front of the goal if that means they can get a point at least. Hazard’s ability to find space and drift in can help Conte’s men unlock Sunderland’s defense.
The last two times Chelsea have beaten the Black Cats, they have won the match 3-1. I expect that they will again score three on Wednesday as the Blues carry too much quality and firepower for Sunderland to match or overcome. For Sunderland to have any semblance of hope, Jermain Defoe and perhaps Anichebe will need to be in amazing form and then too, getting the ball through Chelsea’s miserly defense is going to prove very challenging. I fully expect Chelsea to continue their victory march and consolidate their position at the top.
Sunderland 0 – 3 Chelsea