When a team on a nine game winning run roll into town, you have to concede that it’s going to be a tough evening - especially when you’re a team who are at the foot of the table and have only kept one clean sheet all season.
You want to try and cause the opposition problems, of course, but the emphasis has to be on limiting their chances. So while it may have been slightly surprising to see David Moyes mirror Chelsea’s 3-4-3 system, it was definitely understandable.
Antonio Conte’s side were much further advanced and played a lot higher up the pitch than Sunderland, but that itself highlighted the importance of the change in formation. It wasn’t a game The Lads could afford to just play their own game and try to 'get at' the visitors. They had to focus on stopping them.
In terms of purely stopping Chelsea, it did work for almost the entire first half. The fact that Jordan Pickford only had one save to make in the first 40 minutes is much to the defence's credit. That save being from a free kick, from around 35 yards out, further underlines just how tightly the remodeled back three were operating. They may have been dominating possession but Chelsea weren't breaking through into the Sunderland penalty area, making only 16 touches inside the box in the first half. So everything was going according to plan for Sunderland. From a defensive point of view, at least.
That made it all the more frustrating to concede the type of goal we did. Sloppy, indecisive play saw the defenders caught out by Chelsea and, with the quality Conte's side have, they were always going to punish us. Despite the goal, there were still positives to take from the defensive display. All three central defenders were strong in the air, winning a combined 9 aerial duels (4 from Kone, 3 from O'Shea, 2 from Djilobodji). Diego Costa may have been a menace all evening but he got no joy from the Sunderland back line when it came to those battles, winning only 1 himself.
The constant organising from John O'Shea seemed to be a big factor in Sunderland being so resolute defensively for the majority of the game. It seems that David Moyes will keep calling upon the club captain for these type of games, after his impressive performance against Liverpool, and it was a classic O'Shea display. Reading the game well and using his intelligence, he made 6 interceptions which is crucial against a side with so much attacking flair.
Sunderland simply don't have the luxury of trying to play an expansive attacking game against teams like Chelsea. Such a terrible start to the season means Moyes has to try and take points wherever he can and grinding out a draw was by far our best chance of taking anything at all.
The main problem in Sunderland's overall performance was in the passing. For all the home side were good at winning it back, they were often ponderous and indecisive when in possession.
Good work ethic was shown by 14 tackles being made in a variety of areas, from seven different players, so the collective pressing certainly worked. However, that doesn't count for much when you're often giving the ball away.
The gap between the midfield and attack was quite a chasm on most occasions and it showed how big a loss a player of Victor Anichebe's ilk is to the team. Players such as Jason Denayer didn't really have a focal point to play the ball to and the departure of Anichebe's hold up play also meant Sunderland struggled to keep the ball and take the pressure off themselves. Fabio Borini was cutting inside, playing as more of an inside forward, but he was easily marked without someone holding things up and dragging defenders out of their positions. It also affected the teams attacking movement, since there was simply no space to move into but it would be interesting to see how Sunderland fare if they play this system again, with Anichebe in the team.
For the majority of the game, Sunderland's most dangerous player looked to be Adnan Januzaj. The supporters also, quite stunningly, saw some actual work rate from the Belgian.
He may have been part of the problem in Sunderland's giving away of possession, losing it 7 times, but that was mainly down to the loanee trying to create opportunities. It was easy to see Januzaj's attacking endeavour though, as he was equal with Borini for Sunderland's highest amount of shots and just behind Patrick van Aanholt for most dribbles completed. Sunderland do need to see more from Januzaj, of course, but he at least gave both the fans and the manager some food for thought.
For all the positives you can take from the game, a draw still would have flattered Sunderland. Which isn't necessarily a criticism. Chelsea played very well and are a superb team, so there was certainly honour in defeat for The Black Cats. A fortuitous draw was only a world class save away from being Sunderland's too, when Patrick van Aanholt caught a shot so sweetly, it was like it had been dipped in chocolate.
You can't be all smiles after a defeat but it was heartening to see this kind of display after the Swansea capitulation. You could see what the team was trying to do and they looked back to being organised.
Also, this could be a system worth trying against opposition that isn't as strong as Chelsea. Very few sides play with wing backs pushed as high up as The Blues do, which would give Moyes the chance to push Van Aanholt and Jones slightly further up. As already mentioned, Victor Anichebe could give the attack some added threat, so it'll be interesting to see whether David Moyes doesn't make many changes when Watford visit the Stadium of Light.