Well, that looked like it was going to go horribly wrong at one point. More than one point, actually. Chelsea went down almost immediately to a shocking opening goal, hauled themselves back into it with a penalty, took the lead, immediately saw Sunderland equalise in ridiculous fashion, and then took a fifteen minute pause for halftime with the match level at two apiece. Viewers might have expected a frenetic second half, and they got it, but this time the attacking was all coming from Chelsea, and the Blues were ultimately well worth their 4-2 win.
It was a must win match for a side energised by Monday's forays into the transfer market, but with David Luiz and Fernando Torres unavailable for the match, Carlo Ancelotti had to make do with the team he's had all season. Steve Bruce, on the other hand, could deploy new signing Stephane Sessegnon on the left of a five-man midfield. Although £75M in new signings weren't exactly at hand for Chelsea, Torres and Luiz had a major effect on the team.
Ancelotti chose to deploy his forces in what could be described as a 4-4-2 diamond or a slightly rotated 4-2-2-2, with Salomon Kalou partnering Didier Drogba up front and Nicolas Anelka playing as an advanced midfielder. Clearly, this was in preparation for Torres joining up with the team - Chelsea need to switch to a two-striker system and they were seeing if this one would work. We'll have more analysis on their unusual shape tomorrow, but bear in mind for now that a variety of players were being used in unusual ways, especially Anelka, who absolutely thrived as an attacking midfielder.
We didn't know the game was going to go as well as it did, especially not after the first few minutes, when errors by at least three players gifted Sunderland an opening goal. One of the problems with playing a very narrow shape is that the fullbacks are exposed, and Jose Bosingwa was overloaded with Sessegnon and left back Phil Bardsley. When Bardsley picked the ball up on the halfway line, then, there was nobody to close him down. So he advanced. He made it to Jon Obi Mikel's territory, but the Nigerian midfielder inexplicably backed up and refused to make a tackle. So Bardsley advanced some more. Then he shot. While Mikel should have made a challenge, that wasn't even close to the worst of it. Petr Cech moved in the wrong direction. Branislav Ivanovic jumped out of the way. Sunderland went up 1-0, four minutes into the game.
I'm still suffering from the psychic trauma of losing 3-0 to the Black Cats at Stamford Bridge, so I think it's only reasonable that my mood immediately tumbled off its happy transfer window pinnacle into something approaching the fiery pits of despair. Chelsea responded well, but they were a goal down and I think we all felt that our happiness over Torres and Luiz be fairly short lived. Salvaging the opening few minutes was one Ahmed Elmohamady, who chose to piledrive Ashley Cole inside the Sunderland area for a pretty clear penalty. Frank Lampard hammered a shot past Craig Gordon to put the game level.
The two sides exchanged goals around the 25th minute, with Kalou deftly flicking the ball over a madly onrushing Gordon after a delightful pass from Anelka to give Chelsea the lead before an inexplicable free kick award turned into a goal for the hosts. Elmohamady was gifted possession when Drogba failed to tackle him on the flank, and then was 'fouled' by Mikel 20 yards out. Kieran Richardson took the free kick and fired the ball under the wall and straight into the bottom corner, catching Cech out completely.
The match wasn't even half an hour old and there'd already been four goals, and Chelsea could have added another before the end of the half. Michael Essien, who had had a poor night by his standards, sprung into life, drawing a good save from Gordon following a stinging long-range drive. From the resultant corner, Essien did a phenomenal job of recovering the ball and then crossing under severe pressure, finding Ivanovic at the near post. The Serbian made solid contact from eight yards out and beat the keeper as well, only to see his effort cannon back off the crossbar. Drogba was first onto the rebound but skied the attempted volley.
Sunderland were attacking as well - this was end to end stuff. John Terry looked very slow, and was nearly caught out by both Elmohamady and striker Asamoah Gyan, but on both occasions no further damage was caused. Jose Bosingwa, vital to Chelsea's efforts going forwards, was out of position frequently, with a combination of Mikel and Ivanovic forced to cover. Although the hosts drew only one save out of Cech all half (as well as scoring twice, of course), there was a real threat about their play and Chelsea defence was looking pretty amazingly wobbly.
Half time came and went and a totally different match materialised. The game was still played at an insane piece, but rather than the back and forth of a tennis match the second 45 minutes saw wave after wave of Chelsea attacks crash against red and white shirts. Lampard might have had two goals in the first ten minutes, Didier Drogba failed to turn in a bouncing ball from a yard out, and Steed Malbranque blocked an Anelka shot on the line with his elbow. Sunderland simply could not get the ball, and it was only a matter of time until Chelsea pulled ahead once more.
The goal wasn't a suprise, but the source was. A Chelsea corner was swung in by Drogba and half-cleared, only to see Lampard drive the ball back into the box with some authority. It took an impressive save by Gordon to keep the shot out, but he could only watch in horror as the loose ball cannoned to Terry, and the defender smashed it into the net before wheeling off to celebrate like he'd won the league. Strangely, the corner was won by Terry as well, who had for some reason decided to play as a temporary centre forward. Bizarre, but we'll take it!
Chelsea could have rested on their laurels, but didn't. Anelka, extraordinary all evening in his midfield role, skipped past two defenders and set Kalou free down the right channel. The Ivorian, already on a goal, slipped his shot past Gordon, only to see it hit the post, ricochet off the face of the goal, then hit the other post and bounce out. Chelsea could not have come closer to scoring without actually bagging another. Lampard flung in yet another shot, Essien got in on the action as well, but Chelsea just couldn't score the goal that would settle the contest.
Despite Sunderland's fairly tepid display in the second half, Chelsea's defensive frailties were such that any possession by the home side could have led to a demoralising equaliser. It wasn't until the game was nearly over that Chelsea fans could breathe a sigh of relief - substitute Florent Malouda taking advantage of a slip to feed Nicolas Anelka at the edge of the six-yard box for Anelka to claim the goal that his performance warranted. At 4-2 with only a few seconds left to play, the match was done, three points in the bag, and the ghosts of that horrible performance at the Bridge excised.
As Steve Bruce said, they look like Chelsea again - and that's with Fernando Torres yet to truly enter the fold. The victory over Sunderland marks the second straight game in which Chelsea have scored four goals - and the 4-0 win against Bolton was also at Stamford Bridge. More than anything else, this game marked a turning of the corner. The bad moment is past, and exciting times are afoot.