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Chelsea vs Sunderland: Blues hope to put back-room unrest to bed against Black-Cats

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Written by Joe Carroll.

It has been a week of mixed fortunes for Chelsea Football Club.  After a disappointing 2-0 reversal at the hands of old foe’s Liverpool on Sunday, Chelsea sought to bounce back in a West London derby against Fulham on Wednesday night.  The much missed midfield maestro, Michael Essien returned with a goal to give his side all three points, and with the Manchester sides playing out a 0-0 bore draw Chelsea took full advantage of their rivals slip up and took a four point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Wednesday night’s game at Stamford Bridge however was marred late on as Essien’s return turned sour; the Ghanaian was sent off in the final minute for a reckless lunge on Clint Dempsey.  Two days later, news broke out that assistant Ray Wilkins had been relieved at his duties at the Bridge with immediate effect.  The decision came as a massive shock to players and fans and it is still unclear as to the real reason behind Wilkin’s dismissal.

To add to this bad news, Blues fans awoke on Saturday morning to the disappointment that Frank Lampard’s return to action will have to wait a bit longer.  The England international has suffered a fresh groin injury; the revelation coming as a major setback after the midfielder was expected to be fit for today’s game following a hernia.

Whilst there is no question that Lampard is an integral part of the Chelsea winning machine, I’m sure the majority of Blues fans would agree that Wilkins’s contribution to the success of the past few years has been immeasurable.  In the wake of his exit, Ancelotti has paid tribute to his former number two, saying that ‘real blue-blood’ flows within him.

“One of the reasons I fit into the locker room was to the fundamental role played by Ray Wilkins, my No 2 and my friend” revealed the Italian.

“Ray is one of those select few, always present, noble in spirit, a real blue-blood, Chelsea flows in his veins.  Without him, we couldn’t have won a thing.”

And there it is.  Chelsea’s double winning manager recognises the undoubted contribution of Wilkins to Premier League and FA Cup glory, even if the modest Englishman might play it down.  The man will be sorely missed by all at the club, and only time will tell as to whether the decision was a wise one or not.

But Chelsea FC goes on and Ancelotti’s side can only look to their next game.  Sunderland are next up at Stamford Bridge today, and fans can think of no better team to come up against to brighten up the dark skies that have cast an unwelcome shadow over Chelsea’s week.  If there is one team that can cause the Blues to purr so willingly, its the Black-Cats.

Should Chelsea beat Sunderland, they will set a Premier League record of 12 straight wins against a single opponent- a mean feat by anyones standards, and one of the punishing reasons why the title of champions fits Chelsea so well.  It’s perhaps not too much to say that this game should be a formality for a Chelsea side looking to keep their 10th consecutive Premier League clean sheet at Stamford Bridge- another club record.  To find the last time today’s visitors took so much as a point off the champions, one would have to go back nine years to December of 2001; a scoreless draw at the Bridge.

But ignoring what some would call pointless, stagnating stats and looking to recent form, Sunderland will arrive in a relatively good mood.  After their 5-1 derby humiliation against neighbours Newcastle, the Mackems have taken four points from their last two; a controversial home win against Stoke and a well fought out 1-1 draw at Tottenham three days ago.

If Chelsea are to claim three points today, they must nullify the threat of striker Asamoah Gyan.  The Blues can over power and overplay Sunderland man-for-man in every position on the pitch, but they must not allow the Ghanaian World Cup hero so much as a sniff at goal.  The mid-week game at Spurs should be warning enough as the striker capitalised on defensive uncertainty to grab his side a draw.  Concentration will be needed for the entire 90 minutes, and we are yet to discover what effect the departure of the ever so popular Wilkins will have on the team.

Players are believed to be stunned by his dismissal, and Chelsea fans will be hoping that without his tried and trusted translator, Ancelotti can still get that winning message over to his starting XI.  After a turbulent week, three points will feel like a ray of sunshine piercing an overcast sky over the Bridge.  Let’s just hope these ‘rays’ are here to stay.

Team News

Chelsea: Essien serves the first of his three match ban today whilst Lampard’s return to action will have to wait due to his fresh groin injury. Nicolas Anelka is expected to shake off (not literally of course) the back injury that kept him out of the side in midweek but there is no return for the Brazilian Alex.  Yossi Benayoun remains sidelined with a serious Achilles problem.

Sunderland: Defender John Mensah is doubtful for the game with a shoulder injury.  Anton Ferdinand has been ruled out alongside top scorer Darren Bent, Frazer Campbell and David Meyler.

Possible Line-Ups

Chelsea: Cech, Cole, Terry, Ivanovich, Bosingwa, Mikel, Malouda, Ramires, Kalou, Anelka, Drogba

Sunderland: Gordon, Onuoah, Turner, Bramble, Bardsley, Henderson, Cattermole, Riveros, Richardson, Zenden, Gyan

What impact with the departure of Ray Wilkins have on Chelsea’s season?…today’s game?…What’s you’re reaction to his dismissal?…please leave your comments below…

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