Chelsea continued their impressive record at the Stadium of Light as they beat a rather average looking Sunderland team by 2-1, which included a cheeky backheel from the returning Daniel Sturridge.
André Villas-Boas has so far impressed a lot of people with his talks about the club and the team, but it was the first, hopefully first of many, time he showed that he can deliver on those statements too as he dropped the gravely under-performing Fernando Torres to the bench.
The system employed by Villas-Boas was an interesting one today with Raul Meireles, making his debut, and Frank Lampard operating in the middle of the park, with the Portuguese man playing in a slightly deeper role. Ramires was employed out wide on the right, with the front three of Nicolas Anelka, Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata having very flexible positions.
Sunderland’s build-up to the game was marred by Asamoah Gyan’s sudden departure from the club, but he wasn’t expected to be involved in the game due to injury, so the new loan signing Nicklas Bendtner lead the line.
With pressure growing on Steve Bruce due to months of average performances, it was no surprise that his team came out all charged up, had more of the ball early on and got the first chance of the game after Bendtner broke free from a Larsson free kick, but headed it wide under the suspicion of offside.
Chelsea were still settling into the game, but were showing lots of movement which kept Sunderland players on their toes and the new talisman at Chelsea was soon at his work. Nicolas Anelka was fouled just outside the box and the resultant free kick was sweetly struck by Juan Mata, but came off the post.
However, the ball was kept alive in the Sunderland box and came out to Daniel Sturridge who found John Terry in the box with a delightful cross. The Blues Skipper initially tried to find Anelka in the middle, but when the ball kindly fell to him again, he only had one thing in his mind and Chelsea had taken the lead as ball went past various Sunderland bodies and helped on into the goal by Phil Bardsley.
The goal seemed to hit Sunderland hard as the early euphoria died down, and the entire contingent, both players and fans alike, feared the worst again. This allowed the Chelsea team to settle down into their rhythm and control the game as the pressure was relived.
Contrary to past games, Jose Bosingwa was having a rather quiet afternoon, but all of this looked right off the training ground, with Ramires hogging the touchline on the right meaning there was certainly a lack of space for him to run. On the other side, it was the opposite case as Mata kept on coming inside to link up and Cole was constantly seen much higher up the pitch throughout the game as a result.
With the game now being in our control and Sunderland sitting back, the tempo died down as the half wore on. Although, Sunderland did try to enforce things late in the half, it was all too comfortable with Stéphane Sessègnon being the only who tested Petr Čech.
At the start of the second half, it looked more of a standard 4-3-3 with Nicolas Anelka being the lone man up top. It was Daniel Sturridge though who justified his inclusion in the team with an audacious backheel. After Meireles found him with an over the top ball, Sturridge still had a lot to do and under pressure from Brown, he produced that moment of magic as the ball slowly crossed the line.
It was an attempt that will be cherished for years to come and deservedly so as well.
With a two goal cushion and a midweek game to come, Chelsea backed off even further, but kept Sunderland at bay with some crisp passing and movement, but with minimal of fuss and without over-exerting ourselves.
Despite continued attempts by Steve Bruce to get Sunderland going as an attacking force, the change in tide never came as we remained comfortable, except for the last couple of minutes when a lack of concentration allowed Bendtner through, and he was able to square it to the substitute, Ji Dong-Won, who calmly finished.
There was no further scare though as we held on and kept our unbeaten record going.
This was probably the best performance so far by Chelsea under Villas-Boas, with the defence looking far more assuring except for that late goal.
Raul Meireles was impressive in his debut and did what was required of him, while the front three combined well as Daniel Sturridge stole the show.
Sunderland on the other hand have got an uphill task ahead of them with only Wes Brown coming out of that game with a credible performance.
André Villas-Boas was impressed with the team’s performance as we looked on track to becoming the team that he eventually wants, he said; ‘Today it went very well for us in terms of what we want to achieve. Not that we haven’t tried to do it before but it just didn’t happen in the other three games,’
‘Fortunately today we were able to do the passing which relates more to the way we train and the team played very well.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry (c), Cole; Ramires, Meireles, Lampard; Sturridge (Malouda 61), Anelka (Romeu 79), Mata (Torres 73).
Scorers Terry 17, Sturridge 49.