Chelsea beat Sunderland by a 2-1 margin at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to reclaim third place in the league and although not comfortably, it was a win of immense importance going into the final seven games of the season.
Rafael Benitez’s side were coming on the back of a dominant performance against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League and were in a confident mood going into the tie.
|Terry, Lampard and Torres were rested for the Sunderland game|
Paolo Di Canio, put in-charge of the Tyne and Wear based club had seven games to make a mark and it was important to get the points ticking at Chelsea to raise the spirit of his side who have been sucked into the relegation dog fight in the past 2 months (they currently sit 17th in the table with only a superior goal difference keeping them above Wigan Athletic).
The game started with the visitors on the front foot as a vibrant Stephane Sessegnon led the charge against the reigning European champions. They were by far the better side as they combined well in the central areas to test the hosts’ defense. Connor Wickham showed glimpses of what he can offer at the highest level, giving Brazilian David Luiz a run for his money. They also added width to their play with Johnson and Larsson testing Chelsea’s full backs often. They only lacked that final pass which could have carved open a clear cut opportunity but apart from that it was all Sunderland in the opening period.
|Sessegnon - Sunderland's livewire in the first half
The Chelsea midfield looked out of sorts with Oscar being the worst of the attacking trio. The young Brazilian failed to live up to his usual high standards as he lost the ball on more than one occasion. Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Demba Ba looked lively but a focused and committed Sunderland defense was giving them a tough time in the first half.
Di Canio’s side certainly had the better of the chances and them scoring the opener was more of a when than if. With half time approaching though, Wickham yet again tested the Chelsea defense as his shot was blocked by Luiz. The resultant corner ended up in the net as a delicate John O’Shea flick was turned into his own net by Cesar Azpilicueta. The Blues were behind and looking at their performance until then, it wasn’t a surprise.
|Chelsea trailed during the break thanks to an own goal
Ba, who had taken a knock by a rather nasty challenge by Craig Gardner had to be replaced by Fernando Torres, who was so ever impressive in the win over Rubin Kazan. It proved to be a blessing in disguise for Chelsea though, as with his first touches of the ball, the much maligned striker got past two Sunderland defenders to set up a delightful opportunity for Oscar. The Brazilian fluffed his chance with an uncharacteristically woeful first touch but they had a slice of luck as Matthew Kilgallon, who was closing down the Brazilian, got a touch, which saw the ball roll into an empty net.
The scores were level and with Torres, Chelsea had got the inspiration they so visibly needed to get them going. The Spanish international, who had bagged two in midweek looked lively since the minute he came on. Within minutes of the equalizer, Sunderland cleared a corner that looked anything but damaging for the visitors. The clearance was picked up by Luiz whose shot took a touch of Ivanovic's heel and found the back of the net with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet stranded.
|Ivanovic got the winning goal with a slice of fortune
The home side looked to hold the ball thereafter and take the sting out of their opponent’s play. A deflated Sunderland side, quite opposite of what they were in the first half, began to play catch up. Their attacks lacked penetration and alacrity. The passing was rather slack while the players looked to have lost the belief that they could still get something out of the match. Chelsea passed around the ball comfortably with no pressure on them and one would have expected much more from a side threatened by relegation with the score at 2-1.
With the three points now gone, Di Canio surely needs to imbibe some confidence in his players hoping to overturn their fortunes. The first half proved that they can very well take the game to any side, although this was Chelsea’s fourth game in nine days. Sunderland most definitely need to rise to the occasion but their failure at Chelsea in the last half an hour would give Di Canio something to ponder upon.
What did you feel about the game? Discuss with the author at @aman_ghs or drop in a comment below