This Tuesday night’s game sees one of this season’s premier league over achievers play host to struggling Chelsea. With Sunderland having only recorded one defeat at home all season and only 4 points separating the two teams this could well be a much tighter game than would have been billed at the start of the campaign. Carlo Ancelotti will be looking to get one back over on his Sunderland counterpart, Steve Bruce, after the Black Cats inflicted a humiliating 3-0 defeat on the London based club at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.
Sunderland form: Sunderland responded to the shock departure of talisman Darren Bent last weekend by notching up a convincing 2-1 away victory against newly promoted Blackpool. The Wearsiders have, however, been somewhat hot and cold this season with impressive home results against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United whilst producing seriously lacklustre performances against Stoke City and most recently, Newcastle United. Sunderland recorded what will probably be the result of their season last time out against Chelsea, however with Danny Welbeck, Michael Turner and Lee Cattermole missing for the return visit, Sunderland will be without three of their most influential players. When chasing a Europa League spot, these sorts of home games can be crucial, especially with revitalised Liverpool closing the gap fast. Sunderland currently have the second most clean sheets in the league, 11, one behind Manchester United’s 12. The most clean sheets has in the two previous seasons been an achievement owned by Chelsea.
Chelsea form: Beating Bolton at the Reebok on Monday night ended Chelsea’s worst run in the premier league for 6 years, with only 10 points from a possible 36. The Blues do appear though to be on the up, with Frank Lampard and John Terry coming back from injury and the out of sorts Didier Drogba once again finding the net. The right back position still appears to be a problem position for Chelsea, with neither Jose Bosingwa nor Paulo Ferreira able to cement a first team spot after Branislav Ivanovic has moved into a central role in the back four. Chelsea know that if they are to have any hope of catching Manchester United at the top of the table then these are the games that they have to be winning. A loss and they may have to settle for a champions league spot, a win and the Blue army will believe that they can march on the title once more.
Possible Sunderland team: With only one fit striker, Steve Bruce will have no option but to employ Asamoah Gyan in the loan striker’s role with a supporting midfield player behind him. Steed Malbranque excelled in this role at the start of the season, but with Kieran Richardson having performed so well in this role last weekend, the gaffer may see no option but to keep the same two going forward. This would mean that Malbranque would be pushed into a less effective position on the left, whilst the ever impressive Elmohamady on loan from ENPPI would retain his spot on the right. Lee Cattermole’ s absence should leave room for either Bolo Zenden or young David Meyler to partner Jordan Henderson in the middle of the park, with the back four unchanged in Onuoha, Bramble, Ferdinand and Bardsley. Craig Gordon will keep his spot as number one after two fine saves that denied Charlie Adam and Luke Varney last weekend.
Possible Chelsea team: Carlo Ancelotti will almost certainly start with the same team that so convincingly dealt with Bolton Wanderers on Monday. If this is so, then Kalou will once again loose his spot to Nicholas Anelka who starts up top with Drogba and Malouda. With Michael Essien still missing and Kakuta having left midweek on loan to Fulham, the middle 3 will be Lampard, Mikel and Ramires, who scored his first goal for the club last time out. With Alex still absent, Ivanovic and Terry will provide the centre of defence with Bosingwa and Cole outside of them. Mr Consistent Petr Cech makes up the starting 11.
Key Man: Didier Drogba. The Ivory Coast international has been subdued since suffering from a bout of malaria a few months ago, but a fortunate goal against Spurs and a 35 yard screamer last match may just be enough to waken the sleeping giant. An on form Drogba is near impossible to deal with.
My Prediction: 0-1. Sunderland have been good at home this season but could struggle to consistently break down a well organised Chelsea team with only Gyan to lead the front line.
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