Two under-pressure managers meet at the Stadium of Light as Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland aims for only a third victory of the season against a Chelsea side that after impressively topping the league in late October, now finds itself with a new manager in Rafa Benitez and 10 points behind league leaders Manchester United.
Indeed, even Benitez’ first win as interim boss of the Blues against Danish side FC Nodsjaelland in midweek was tempered by their exit from the Champions League at the group stage, the first time the defending European champions have failed to progress into the knockout phase.
Sunderland could call upon defender John O’Shea, who has recovered from a calf injury but star striker Steven Fletcher’s will undergo a fitness test on an ankle problem sustained during last week’s defeat at Norwich, with either Connor Wickham or Louis Saha set to deputise in the Scot’s absence. Elsewhere, captain Lee Cattermole’s knee injury sees him join Wes Brown on the long-term injury list.
Chelsea will be without John Obi Mikel after the midfielder, who signed a new contract at Stamford Bridge in the week, was suspended for three games after pleading guilty to an FA charge of threatening behaviour towards referee Mark Clattenburg in the Blues’ defeat to Manchester United in October.
Elsewhere, Daniel Sturridge and Frank Lampard will undergo pre-match assessments as they seek to recover from hamstring and calf injuries respectively while captain John Terry remains absent with a knee problem.