Stamford Bridge is the venue for what could be seen as an incredibly unlikely relegation six-pointer, as after the headline news of boss Jose Mourinho being sacked, Chelsea aim to avoid a 10th league defeat of the campaign against Sunderland, who begin a daunting trio of festive fixtures.
The patience that has been shown towards Mourinho finally reached its end on Thursday as the most successful manager in the Blues’ history was shown the door, at a time when the abysmal defence of their Premier League title showed no sign of coming to an immediate end, with only a point separating them from a place in the bottom three, where their opponents currently reside. Everyone within the football community has been the opinion that it will surely turn around sooner or later, but as Christmas looms, the word ‘relegation’ is now being bandied about.
As surreal as that sounds, Mourinho was forced to face up to where the club finds itself and that obviously raised alarm bells within the hierarchy. He had strong words for his players – who have to take a great deal of responsibility for recent developments – after they came unstuck at leaders Leicester City on Monday, accusing them of ‘betrayal’ as they had failed to act on his pre-match instructions.
A barrage of late pressure was not enough to rescue something from the game, where the performance of captain John Terry again came under heavy scrutiny, but in reality the whole squad appear to have their futures on the line given the extent to which they are underperforming, and that especially applies now with Mourinho gone.
Another unhappy manager last weekend was Sunderland’s Sam Allardyce, who because of his side’s tricky run of upcoming matches was desperately disappointed to see his team lose at home to Watford. After a dreadful start in which they were lucky to concede just the once, they gradually battled back and had more than enough chances to pick up a point, but a combination of dogged defending and wasteful finishing cost them dear.
With Chelsea playing with so little conviction at present, there is every reason why Sunderland might be able to come away with something here, but they need strikers Fabio Borini – against his old club – and Jermain Defoe to be on form. Their newfound defensive organisation should make it difficult for them to be pierced at the other end, but the message will be to keep things tight and take their chances as the anxiety levels of the home supporters increase.
Expected to be led by Steve Holland, the hosts are waiting on the fitness of Eden Hazard, who was forced off at Leicester. Gary Cahill and Pedro Rodriguez are pushing for recalls.
Midfield duo Lee Cattermole and Sebastian Larsson remain unavailable for Sunderland, while Sebastian Coates is a major doubt due to illness.
Played for both – Tore Andre Flo: The Norwegian forward moved to England in 1997 to join Chelsea and became a favourite at the club, making 112 league appearances and scoring 34 goals over a three-year stay. After spending time in Scotland with Rangers, he joined Sunderland for 2002-03, but the season turned out to be something of a disaster as the club was relegated in a distant last place. He found the net four times in 29 Premier League games for the Black Cats.