The first of two crucial make-or-break home games for relegation threatened Sunderland in the space of five days sees them take on a Chelsea side that will look to affect matters at the bottom after helping to decide the destiny of the title last time out.
For most of their game at Stoke City there was little threat posed by Sunderland and they fell behind to a disputed goal shortly after the interval, but a late onslaught was to prove fruitful as Jermain Defoe once again went some way to underlining his value to the Wearside club’s cause, winning and converting a last-gasp penalty kick that ensured that their mini unbeaten run was set to continue. Without the predatory instinct and goals that Defoe provides, one wonders where they would be without him.
It was welcome boost, but that penalty was not enough to keep the Black Cats outside the bottom three as a win for Newcastle United saw them overtaken. Even so, Sunderland have a game in hand on their arch rivals which could make all the difference, but it is essential they take something here. They are certainly looking sharp enough in their play that suggests they can do so; the only thing that needs eradicating is the sloppy passing that often lets them down.
Guus Hiddink’s final Premier League game of his first spell at Chelsea came at the Stadium of Light in May 2009, where he oversaw a 3-2 victory. Back then the club was on the comeback trail, but the Dutchman is now presiding over an end to the season where they have little to fight for, although at the same time their results are having a big say in issues at both ends of the table. On Monday they were the team responsible for handing the title to Leicester City on a night that will go down in folklore.
It seemed like their hopes of taking any points from Tottenham were all but gone at half-time as they trailed by two goals to nil in a fiery match that often boiled over into ugly scenes. Of the football played in the second period, it was Eden Hazard’s introduction that totally changed proceedings as he was vibrant and almost impossible to handle, scoring a sublime goal to end the Spurs hopes. For 45 minutes he was the player who terrorised every team that crossed his path in 2014-15. And about time too.
Sunderland are expected to be unchanged again for this one, with Billy Jones their only injury concern due to a hip injury.
Thibaut Courtois is likely to return in goal for Chelsea following a two-match ban, while Hazard may be restored to the team as a result of his game-changing contribution against Tottenham.
Last Meeting: The unbeaten leaders Chelsea were prevented from scoring for the first time last season in November 2014 as Sunderland battled hard to keep them out and even could have ended up winning it themselves. Santiago Vergini’s effort that clipped the crossbar was the closest attempt for the hosts, who also had late chances to break the deadlock. Willian hit a post in the first half for Jose Mourinho’s men.
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