The Premier League will be back this weekend when Jose Mourinho’s top placed Chelsea travel to the Stadium Of Light, to square up against Gus Poyet’s 14th placed Sunderland, in a hope to extend their unbeaten run and further strengthen their position at the top of the league.
Tabloids are marking this game as some sort of revenge fixture for the Blues. Considering the fact that Gus Poyet’s men got the better of Chelsea last year, more so at a time that probably derailed our quest for the league title; revenge might be at the back of Mourinho’s mind. Apart from that, the Black Cats also broke Portuguese’s run of unbeaten league matches at Stamford Bridge, and knowing Mourinho, that’s got to hurt his pride.
Blues lacked a potent force going forward last season which accounted for our inabilities in breaking down the weaker oppositions although, things are looking completely different this time around. Mourinho’s Chelsea has been magnificent at all facets of the game. In fact, I have never heard the boss use the words like “happiness”, “flair”, “beauty”, for his team in the post match interviews since his return to Stamford Bridge last year.
Keeping in mind the recent forms and performances of both the teams, I can’t see Sunderland taking anything away from this fixture. This Chelsea side, when fit and firing, is as close to perfection as it gets but, given that football can be a funny sports sometimes, let’s look at some of the key player battles that might influence the outcome of this game:
LEE CATERMOLE vs CESC FABREGAS
The Spanish playmaker has been immense for Blues this season, racking up assists likes they are on sale at some sort of discount price at a shop. 10 assists to be exact in the 12 PL games so far, Fabregas has been the main reason for the phrases like “a thing of beauty” and “pleasing to the eye” being used for the Blues this season.
With 2 MOM performances in as many games, the 27-year-old will have a routine job of unlocking a deep defense when he starts tomorrow up against Lee Cattermole.
Lee Cattermole, with a reputation of a tough tackling midfielder, will have an important job of closing down Cesc Fabregas in the middle of the pitch, avoiding him of any space to work his magic. The 26-year-old English midfielder has been a regular for the Gus Poyet’s side with an Opta rating of 7.1, marking his importance in the team. Although, given Fabregas’s quality on and off the ball and his interchanging play with Oscar, it might prove a bit too much for the Englishman on the weekend. Still, an important battle to watch out for tomorrow.
JOHN O’Shea vs DIEGO COSTA
Sunderland’s defense has been one of the worst in the league; allowing 19 goals in the 12 PL games doesn’t look remarkable and has been one of the weakest point for the Gus Poyet’s side. Southampton put 8 past the hapless Black Cats defense a few weeks back, which shows their vulnerability at the back. Imagine what could happen to the same defense if Diego Costa goes rampant tomorrow!
With an Opta rating of 6.6, J. O’Shea has just been average at the heart of the Sunderland’s defense and so has been his 35-year-old partner Wes Brown.
On the other hand, if I say Diego Costa has been lighting the league on fire, it would probably be an understatement. With 11 goals in his 10 league appearances so far, the Spaniard has been a brutal force going forward and if he can continue his rampant form going into this fixture, well John O’Shea and co. can only hope and pray, because I don’t think they are capable enough to stop this guy in full flow. Look out for this battle tomorrow, you might be in for a fun!
EDEN HAZARD vs SANTIAGO VERGINI
I think most of the fans would agree with me when I say that the key player battles doesn’t/shouldn’t end without a mention of Eden Hazard. The little Belgian, with his style, flair and dancing runs has been one of our most creative players. Although, Hazard doesn’t have the assists of Fabregas or the goals of Costa to show for, but even the presence of the Belgian on the pitch is enough to wreak havoc in the opposition side.
Lately though, Eden Hazard has been on some kind of mission to tear apart and destroy any fullback that comes up against him. The Belgian usually draws a foul and a booking for the fullback with his mesmerizing play in the first half an hour and after that he just runs past the defender all match long, as if he doesn’t even exists.
This time in his quest of greatness, he would be up against Santiago Vergini. Vergini has been performing decently for the Black Cats, but stopping Hazard’s runs at the Stadium of Light tomorrow would be a task, that might be a bit out of reach for the right-back, which makes this battle even more fun to watch out for, from Chelsea’s perspective tomorrow.
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Edited By: Ankur Bhatt