Sunderland travel to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea in Saturday’s evening kick-off. The game means a lot to both teams and the result will have consequences at different ends of the table. Chelsea know that a win will take them back to the top of the league.
With Liverpool not playing until Sunday, a Chelsea win will put pressure on the Reds to perform at Norwich. With Chelsea due to travel to Anfield next weekend, they will want to be in the best position possible. Sunderland will be buoyed by their 2-2 draw at Manchester City. The Black Cats find themselves at the bottom of the league, six points off safety. They do have a game in hand, but at this point of the season it is imperative that they start winning games to make up the gap. Beating Chelsea will be a tough task, but it is one that they achieved in the League Cup earlier in the campaign.
Chelsea have only one main injury problem for the game. Eden Hazard is still out with a calf problem after being injured in the second leg against PSG. Demba Ba should continue to start up front for the Blues.
Sunderland will be missing a number of players for the fixture. On loan midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung will be missing with a knee injury. Defender Carlos Cuellar and forward Steven Fletcher will also miss out with hamstring and ankle injuries respectively. Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood continues to be out with a shoulder problem.
When the two teams met earlier in the season, Chelsea came out the better in a 4-3 thriller at the Stadium of Light. Eden Hazard was on target twice that day for the Blues, but he will miss the weekend’s game with an injury. Chelsea have lost only once in their last 18 league meetings with Sunderland. The Black Cats last win against the Blues came in a 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in November 2010. Sunderland striker Jose Altidore’s solitary league goal in 27 appearances came in the game against Chelsea at the Stadium of Light. This goal is just one of two Premier League goals that the American has scored in 55 appearances.
It has been a tough season for Demba Ba. The disappointing performances of Fernando Torres and the inconsistency of Samuel Eto’o away from home have not been enough to give Ba more game time. The Senegalese had an excellent goal scoring record in the Premier League before joining the Blues – scoring 36 times in just 66 games. That record prompted the Blues to sign him in January 2013, but he has only scored six league goals in 30 appearances. Four of those goals have come this season, but with only three starts it is easy to understand why he hasn’t scored more. After scoring in the Champions League game against PSG, Ba was given his chance last weekend and responded with another goal. Ba has scored once and contributed two assists in his previous four league games against Sunderland.
He has a managed a goal every 114 minutes which is the best of any Chelsea player. There has been much talk of Chelsea’s striking woes, but Ba could be a revelation for the Blues with his freshness having not played much this season. If he can continue to score goals, Jose Mourinho may regret not giving him a chance earlier in the season.
Connor Wickham is another player who has had a hard time since moving to the Premier League. Bought at 18 for £8 million, Wickham has struggled at Sunderland,only scoring one goal league goal in his first two seasons at the club. Wickham had been on loan at Sheffield Wednesday this season where he managed to score eight goals in 11 games. He was recalled from a subsequent brief spell at Leeds with the Black Cats’ strikers struggling for goals. In midweek he broke his Premier League duck with two goals against Man City to grab Sunderland some vital points. Confidence is a very important thing in football, and there is no doubt that Wickham will have that after scoring two goals at the Etihad.
At only 21, Wickham still has a lot of his career ahead of him. If he manages to help keep Sunderland up, it could be the starting point to establish himself as a Premier League player in the future. He was seen as a potential England star earlier in his career and if he is to be capped at senior level, he will need to put in more impressive performances in the Premier League.
It is a must win game for both teams. Chelsea are the clear favourites as they will have home advantage and will no doubt be organised well by Mourinho. For Sunderland to take all three points they will have to put to an end one of football’s greatest records in Jose Mourinho’s home record as a manager. That does seem too much for this Sunderland team, so a Chelsea win seems the most likely result. I predict an edgy 1-0 win to Chelsea.