Sunderland away now becomes THE TOUGHEST TEST™ as Chelsea look to make it double digits in this ever more impressive winning streak.
Of course, nothing's a given in the Premier League. For example, Arsenal hilariously dropped points on Tuesday away to Everton who had won just one of their previous eleven games. And Chelsea have struggled against Sunderland in recent years, winning just two of our last six match-ups. We haven't won in Sunderland since this time three years ago and, at the moment, the Black Cats are actually one of the more in-form teams in the league. I'm sure others would find it equally hilarious should Chelsea drop points in this one — it is last against first, after all — so let's not do that.
In the first two years of Mourinho Mk.II, we talked a lot about opportunities and taking advantage of them. In 2013-14, we routinely did not take advantage, eventually throwing away the title in the final weeks of the season. The following year, we routinely did, especially during the winter months, and that proved to be all the difference that was needed in the end. A similar opportunity now awaits us, as the rest of the top four-five-six are finding new and interesting ways to shoot themselves in the foot (feet?).
Chelsea could move
at least five, possibly six points clear at the top of the league with a win here — so let's do that.
Date / Time: Wednesday, December 14, 2016, 19:45 GMT; 2:45pm EST; 1:15am IST (next day)
Venue: Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England
Referee: Neil Swarbrick — Chelsea have never lost a Swarbrick-refereed match in ten tries, the last of which was our 4-0 win away over eventually relegated Aston Villa last April.
Forecast: A relatively non-cold non-wet but still very much Wednesday night
On TV: none (UK); NBC Premier League Extra Time (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: NBC Sports Live Extra (USA); Star Sports (India); Chelsea TV, talkSport (radio, int'l)
Sunderland team news: For the first two months of the season, Sunderland were unquestionably the worst side in the league. They got just two (2!) points out of their first ten matches, easily ahead of the pace of the worst-ever Premier League campaign, set by the 2007-08 edition of Derby County who finished the season with just one win and eleven points. But that was October.
In the five games since, Sunderland have three wins and are now just two points away from safety. That said, they were roundly beaten by fellow relegation candidates Swansea on the weekend, so who knows which version of the Black Cats will show up. For more on their struggles this season, but sure to read Rob's opposition preview.
Sunderland will be without one of their key players, midfielder and club record signing Didier Ndong, who's suspended. He'll be replaced by former Bundesliga man Jan Kirchhoff. A few long-term injury victims aside, the hosts have a clean bill of health, including Fabio Borini, who tends to play well against his former team. Another Chelsea alum hoping to make a difference will be attacking left back Patrick van Aanholt. (Meanwhile, vice-versa, Marcos Alonso returns to Sunderland for the first time since his quite successful half-season loan there from Fiorentina.)
View from the enemy: Roker Report — be sure to read their match preview, which also talks about young Bradley Lowery, whose plight Chelsea captain John Terry was drawing attention to as well earlier this week. Five-year-old Bradley will be a special guest and mascot on Wednesday and will even get to take a shot on Asmir Begović during pre-match warmups. Fans around the country have been paying tribute to Bradley with a fifth-minute applause as well as by sending thousands of Christmas cards to him.
Chelsea team news: It's been an eventful 24 hours at Chelsea, with news of Oscar's impending £60m to China breaking, Azpilicueta signing a new deal, and rumors of JT not getting to do the same this time around. Fortunately, the news avoided the treatment room, and all players who were available on Sunday should be available once again.
UDPATE: Eden Hazard has not traveled due to a knock. Could be a somewhat short bench for Chelsea in this one.
Eden Hazard has not travelled with the Chelsea squad to Sunderland. He has a knock from WBA game. Willian likely to replace him tonight #cfc— Matt Law (@Matt_Law_DT) December 14, 2016
The question is, just how much will Conte rotate in light of this being a special midweek round with another game coming up on Saturday already. Our guess is 'not a lot' though, but that's just a pure guess for what is a new situation for Conte and his tactics.
Previously: Chelsea's last win at the Stadium of Light was this hilarious 4-3 affair back in December of 2013.