With Champions League football not returning until late February Chelsea continue unscathed from mid-week duties.
The Blues have had to spend several weeks watching their fellow title contenders failing throughout their respective competitions. The Blues last competitive game was an FA Cup tie which they ran out comfortable winners beating Watford 5-0. Although a league tie with Sunderland is sandwiched in between, their focus may now lie in the fourth round tie with Preston North End. With Liverpool and Manchester United making early exits, Chelsea have cemented themselves as the firm favourites for the tournament. Arsenal struggled in their first FA Cup tie of the season requiring late goals to see off West Ham but will still pose considerable threat to Chelsea’s trophy chances. Since the Londoners’ last match they have seen Manchester United and Arsenal drop league points, as well as Liverpool plummeting for the FA Cup. Chelsea’s next tie is at home to Sunderland, and they will look to retrieve ‘top four’ credibility after their fellow challenger’s recent poor form. With two consecutive wins under their belt already, Carlo Ancelotti’s men will endeavour to string a succession of wins together in order to maintain top spot in the league.
Sunderland provide the leaders next challenge although the Black Cats have failed to win in their last seven Premier League games. When the two sides met last Darren Bent slotted home to take the lead at the Stadium of Light, and his goal scoring presence is always a threat. Transfer target for many clubs, Kenwyne Jones can also throw a spanner in the works with his Didier Drogba approach to the role up top. Youngster Jordan Henderson has also impressed under Steve Bruce on the right hand side although he is unlikely to cause too many troubles for the quick feet of Ashley Cole. Nicolas Anelka is expected to return to the fray after being deemed unfit for a few weeks. Daniel Sturridge is likely to partner him up top after an impressive display in the FA Cup sealed with two well taken goals. Chelsea may however need to rely on the hands of Frank Lampard and John Terry to drive the side forward. The pair will need to stabilise the spine of the side after the exits of Drogba and Michael Essien to the African Cup of Nations. Drogba’s Ivory Coast were held 0-0 in their opening tie with Burkina Faso and Ghana’s game was cancelled due to the shocking Togo coach incident.
No advancements have been made in the transfer window thus far for the Blues. Ancelotti insisted pre-January that no transfers would be made, although little believed this to be so. Many expected Ancelotti to be simply reflecting pressure away, whereas it seems now at the half way point of the window that no action will be taken. Joe Cole has received wide media coverage about a supposed move across London, with Arsenal and Tottenham both linked with the long-serving Blue. Joe Cole has failed to impact under the Italian’s reign and is rarely chosen over Lampard. Lampard has been considerably under-performing this season yet his role at the point of the diamond has been secured through his status at the club. Frustrated by limited opportunity, Joe Cole has reportedly demanded regular football or a move away from the Bridge. Cole is a great asset and favoured by the fans after winning Fans Player of the Year in 2008 alongside his Chelsea player of the Year accolade.
Back to league football for the Blues then as they host a struggling Sunderland side of late, a win is necessitated to relieve pressure from the chasing pack. With a fully fit squad at the managers disposal, Chelsea will be expected to take all three points, although no-one can be sure of that any more.