Preview: Can Out-Of-Sorts Chelsea Bring Cats Some Home Comforts?

Mike Hewitt

Martin O'Neill's strugglers entertain Chelsea, a team who despite their talents have actually managed to win fewer of their last 6 games than Sunderland have. Join us as we preview the action.

Sunderland Team News

Steven Fletcher picked up a knock at Norwich last week though it is not thought to be serious. Should he fail to recover in time, and with Louis Saha also nursing injury, Connor Wickham will likely come into Martin O'Neill's thinking to lead the line.

At the other end of the pitch John O'Shea is said to be making good progress from the calf injury picked up against WBA but won't make it in time. Wes Brown is not yet ready to return despite stepping up his latest bid for fitness.

Chelsea Team News

The European Champions will have to do without the services of John Obi Mikel, who serves the first of a three-game-ban imposed for his part in the recent distasteful Mark Clattenburg affair.

Elsewhere, both the scorers in Chelsea's win at Sunderland last season - John Terry and Daniel Sturridge - miss out due to injury, but Frank Lampard is part of the squad travelling to the north east.

Predicted Lineups

Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, Bramble, Cuellar, Rose; Larson, Gardner, Johnson, McClean; Sessegnon; Fletcher

Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Romeu; Hazard, Mata, Oscar' Torres

Key Matchup: Carlos Cuellar Vs Fernando Torres

Chelsea's £50m man returned to goalscoring form in midweek and will have enjoyed the confidence boost. With Sunderland a little short on senior centre backs with Brown and O'Shea absent, the job of shackling the Spaniard will likely fall to his countryman Carlos Cuellar.

The Blues are not short on attacking talent, of course, with the midfield especially resplendent with flair and invention, so it won't be simply a case of stop Torres and you stop Chelsea. But denying those players a forward pass will at least likely make them have to do something special.

Recent Form (League): DLDDL

Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool (Terry 20, Suarez 73)

West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Chelsea (Long 10, Hazard 39, Odemwingie 50)

Chelsea 0-0 Manchester City

Chelsea 0-0 Fulham

West Ham 3-1 Chelsea (Mata 13, Cole 63, Diame 86, Maiga 90)

Last Time Around: Sunderland 1-2 Chelsea, 10/9/12

Ji scored a last minute goal in front of the North Stand but this one counted for nothing. A first half goal from John Terry and an outrageously audacious finish from Daniel Sturridge shortly after the break ensured Chelsea enjoyed another profitable trip to Wearside.

The game was also notable for Phil Bardsley receiving a retrospective charge of violent conduct and 4 game ban for a nasty stamp on Juan Mata, effectively making it two red cards in the first two home games for the former Manchester full-back.

The Ref: Mark Halsey

The Lancashire-based official takes charge of a Sunderland game for just the second time this season. Halsey was the man in the middle for the less-than-memorable trip to Stoke earlier in October.

He is no stranger to this particular fixture, however. This will be the third time the 51-year-old has refereed a game between Sunderland and Chelsea on Wearside, with the away side winning both.

Perhaps, though, his presence will bring goals. Those two previous occasions have produced a total of no less than eleven goals between them.

What The Managers Said

Martin O'Neill

We have to try to replicate the second-half performance against Norwich as early as possible in the game.

The Stadium of Light crowd can make a big, big difference to the team.

I feel as if they want to cheer on something.

Yes, of course there’s frustration which seems to have been pent up for years and years and it’s a way of letting loose.

But if we can do something on the field to make them feel as if these boys really need supporting, then that makes a big difference.

I watched the Chelsea game on Wednesday night at Stamford Bridge and they have a load of quality players, a number of which weren’t even playing.

Rafa Benitez

We have to beat Sunderland, and if we can we'll be closer to at least one of the leaders.

My job is to concentrate on my team and if we can be closer sooner rather than later that would be good. We have a chance as long as we start winning games.

The last game was very good, you can talk about the level of the other team but it was the Champions League and the level and intensity was fantastic.

I watched it again and I was very pleased with the performance. Even at 75 minutes and 85 minutes we were still pushing.

Roker Report Predicts

Despite Mark Halsey's history of overseeing goals in this fixture, it would probably be prudent to expect a low-scoring game. Neither side are in good form in the league and it is likely to produce a cagey and tentative game.

It may be a case, therefore, that either side could nick it on the day by a low margin. With their array of attacking talent, you'd back Chelsea in that regard over Sunderland.

We are optimists, though, albeit yet optimists soured by the maddening influence of Sunderland AFC. So we will plump for a low scoring draw.

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