With the transfer window slamming shut a week ago, teams and fans alike have been able to shift their focus back to real-life soccer instead of Football Manager build-a-dream-team soccer (which I have proudly done multiple times). The teams are locked in and it's time for the real season to begin. Players are no longer fighting for a place on the team, but training for a spot in the first-team. Time to buckle down, get settled in, and play some soccer.
The first test for Chelsea's strengthened squad comes in the form o a win-less Sunderland squad. While they may be out of form and adjusting to several new players, they are no walkover. Sunderland has finished in the middle third of the table for 2 straight years and have added some players from big teams in England. They have also only allowed 2 goals on the year in the EPL (though they have the woodwork to thank for that) and have an in-form goalie with Simon Mignolet. That being said, they are win-less thus far in the year including a rough Carling Cup loss to Championship side Brighton. Let's see how we can keep it that way:
Keys to beating Sunderland:
Defensively, they are a mess right now. Sure, they can boast 3 goals against in 4 games, but it hasn't been easy or without a lot of help from the frame. Sunderland has had 2 consistent issues thus far in the season and Chelsea should be able to exploit these with (relative) ease.
1. They picked up Bendtner. Thank God for that. He is just awful. A close friend of mine is an Arsenal fan (poor guy) and when we would watch games together he would pray that Bendtner would not play. I would pray for the opposite. He is just not good. I know it, you know it, but Bendtner doesn't.
2. Issue #1: Of the 3 goals scored against them thus far, 2 were on "open" headers and 1 was a freekick from about 25 yards out. By "open" header, I mean there was basically no resistance. The header had no real challenger; no one to climb above or push out of the way. They were just running free. Through multiple highlights, I counted 5 more "open" headers where either Mignolet came up with a big save, or the opposing team simply missed the frame. Point being, Sunderland is having some serious issues marking players off crosses (both open play and set-pieces) and I feel Terry, Torres, and Ivanovic/Luiz/Alex will welcome that.
3. Issue #2: Along with having issues marking players on crosses, The Black Cats have also had problems with players running at them with pace. Now Downing is no slouch, but he isn't a world-class player either. Watch as he runs right at the defense and the Sunderland defenders have no idea what to do:
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xkreph_liverpool-1-1-sunderland-13-08-11-lfc-bih_sport (Start at 3:42)
Defenders had no idea whether to attack the ball, cover for one another, or cut off passing lanes. Torres, Sturridge, and Mata can have a field day if they have the confidence to do so (Kalou, please don't attempt this if you play).
4. Watch Gyan and Sessegnon. The offense runs through these two players. Thankfully for teams, they are largely wasteful with the ball. Between the two of them, there have been 23 crosses and 21 shots taken. 5 shots have been on frame and zero crosses or shots have resulted with the ball in the back of the net. Chelsea needs to keep an eye on these two as they are still Premier League talent, but count me as one not too worried about them posing a real threat.
5. See #1. It needs repeating.
Notes on Chelsea:
Along with the points above, Chelsea needs to find their identity as a team in order to stay undefeated. All the puzzle pieces are there, now AVB needs to put them together. No Modric, no problem. People seem to forget that we finished 2nd in the league last year with this team. Chelsea was getting stale last year, but that doesn't mean there isn't ANY creativity at the club. Part of it was down to the manager's style of play as well. AVB is open and attacking and this will bring the creativity out of the team. A few things I'm hoping to see happen against the Black Cats:
1. With Mata at the club, Lampard can stop being expected to provide ALL the creative flair and go back to doing what he does best: arrive late and score goals. I believe with that expectation off his back, he will turn back the clock a couple seasons and find better form. Let him roam the field and find his own space instead of forcing the ball to him and demanding him to create something.
2. Sturridge will hopefully get the starting nod now that he is back from suspension and will provide an added spark to the side. While he may not be a Messi, Özil, or Hazard type playmaker, he brings a similar "danger" to the Chelsea side. I think of him as a infinitely more capable Kalou. He can run at players (but actually get by them), make runs (that actually open up the field for others), and finish. These may not be defined as "creative" but they do the same thing: open up the game for other players. I believe, along with Mata, Sturridge will play a crucial role in helping Torres get his form back.
3. Keep faith in Torres. He has looked a shell of his days at Liverpool, I don't deny that. But the Stoke game gave me renewed hope. He hasn't lost his brain, he still knows the runs to make and he still has a ton of moves in his arsenal. I think with more attacking players like Mata and Sturridge flanking him, he will find more free space, more quality deliveries, and begin scoring. We need to get his confidence up before Man U.
With Drogba out, AVBs decisions become a little easier. I think the following line-up will serve well at the Stadium of Light:
My guess is Meireles, Malouda, and if we are lucky one of the young ones (Lukaku/McEachran/Romeu) to come in as subs. Ivanovic may come in for Luiz/Bosingwa to get some match practice before Man U next weekend (who I think will get the starting nod since he can actually play defense).
Look for Ramires and Lampard to boss the central midfield, with Mikel even pushing up more than normal. Sturridge and Mata are interchangeable on the sides and will both cut in from the outside and look to create chances.
Final Prediction: 3-0 Chelsea with a confident display for the first time this season!