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Chelsea FC at Sunderland: Match Preview

Is Steve Bruce cooking up another Chelsea embarrassment in the northeast?
Is Steve Bruce cooking up another Chelsea embarrassment in the northeast?

So turns out you have to play football as well as just buying players. Who knew? While Fernando Torres was headed to Stamford Bridge, his new teammates were going the other direction. Chelsea are up in the northeast to face Sunderland, and they'll want to give the Black Cats some payback for the humiliating 3-0 loss suffered at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. There'll be no reinforcements for Chelsea here - neither Torres nor new defender David Luiz will link up with the squad in time to feature at the Stadium of Light - so the Blues will just have to roll with what they've got.

Sunderland, meanwhile, have made major improvements to their squad, acquiring both Stephane Sessegnon and Sully Muntari, although they have suffered a blow in the loss of Darren Bent to Aston Villa. However, Bent's departure isn't all bad news, as it allows Asamoah Gyan more space up front where he fits more naturally into a solid 4-5-1. Sessegnon is set to start tomorrow's match, according to Steve Bruce, and if he can find some space in which to operate he'll pose Chelsea some real problems with his playmaking ability.

Chelsea's lineup will probably be fairly similar to that which faced off against Everton over the weekend, with the possible exception of John Obi Mikel inserted into the starting eleven. This, of course, has repercussions on the shape of the side, as Mikel is the lynchpin of the 4-1-2-3 system that Carlo Ancelotti favours. His presence in front of the defence allows the other central midfielders to play wider as well as giving the fullbacks - Ashley Cole in particular - license to get forward.

The forwards now face an interesting problem in that they need to show their stuff before Torres inevitably knocks one of them to the bench. This really becomes a three-way battle between Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, and Florent Malouda, and based on their play over the last few weeks it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see either of Malouda or Anelka dropped the next time Chelsea play. Against a somewhat dubious Sunderland back line, however, expect to see a major effort made by everyone. None of them will want to fail Ancelotti tomorrow!

Yes, we lost to this team 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. They'd love to do the double over us, they're now a better side, and they'll come out with all guns blazing. However, we're also a different side to the Chelsea that put on such an inept display in November. John Terry is back in central defence instead of Paulo Ferreira. There was no Michael Essien or Frank Lampard available. Ramires has turned the corner to become a rather good player. And Drogba no longer has malaria.

Sunderland are a good side, but so too are Bolton and we rolled them over at the Reebok. This game is winnable, and Chelsea are favourites. The earlier loss should help avoid any sort of overconfidence as well. Chelsea know what Sunderland can do - now they just have to stop it.

One more game until the cavalry come, boys. Can you handle it? I say yes, but a loss or a draw wouldn't shock me at all.

Time: 7:45 PM GMT (2:45 PM EST), Tuesday February 1st.

Pick: 2-1 Chelsea.