Carlo Ancelotti is perhaps best remembered on these shores as the manager who allowed a three-goal lead to disappear in a European Cup final. In contrast, his first three games at the helm of Chelsea have seen him engineer victory from losing positions.
This was, however, not quite the last-gasp effort that saw them snatch three points against Hull. Having gone behind to Darren Bent's second goal in as many matches for Sunderland, it was always likely, given their overwhelming level of possession, that Chelsea would recover.
Nevertheless, it required some cool finishing from Michael Ballack and Deco, who excelled in a way he rarely did for Guus Hiddink, plus a Frank Lampard penalty to restore the contest to pre-match expectations.
"You can lose the lead, it happens in football," said Ancelotti. "But it is important not to be afraid. We were behind but we had good control of the match and good possession – not a lot of shots but total control. Sunderland were very professional in defence in the first half. In the second half, they ran a lot."
After an opening-day victory at Bolton, this was a slice of reality for Steve Bruce's new regime. In his programme notes, the Sunderland manager was at pains to play down the importance of his Tyneside upbringing which might seem unnecessary until you realise that last night Ashley Cole was booed not because of the feckless way he has led his private life but the fact that he is married to a Geordie, the saintly Cheryl.
"It is no disgrace to say that sometimes you are beaten by a very good side," Bruce said. "I was never comfortable out there, not even when we were in front. A lot has been talked about the diamond formation that Chelsea play. All I can say is that it is very, very difficult to play against. There were times when it looked like we were down to 10 men. Ancelotti has won that way in Serie A and he has won that way in the Champions League and he is not going to change now. They are the real deal."
This match was turned by men whom Stamford Bridge have been slow to appreciate, Michael Ballack and Deco, the one lingering memento of what will come to be known as the Phil Scolari months. Both scored and while Ballack provided the discipline and reluctance to surrender the ball that saw Chelsea safe, the Portuguese sparkled in an elongated diamond.
Deco is good at beginnings; he excelled in his opening matches for Scolari but by the end of his first season in London he was named by Four Four Two magazine as the player most fans would have liked to have driven to the airport, presumably so he could rejoin Jose Mourinho at Internazionale. Last night, Ancelotti said he was opposed to any sale.
Against Hull, Ancelotti had confessed to feeling the need for a cigarette and the cravings would have returned the moment Bent pounced as Kenwyne Jones's attempt at a shot struck John Terry's boot and rebounded into his path. The striker will never forget the comment made by his former manager at Tottenham that his wife could have finished some of Bent's chances. Sandra Redknapp would have done well to put away that opportunity with such aplomb.
Had Lee Cattermole not blocked a thunderous volley from Ballack on the line, Chelsea would have levelled before the interval. The inevitable was coming, however, and although he had expected an equaliser, Bruce was frustrated that Ballack did so from a corner. Deco's coup-de-grace that rifled in off the post was as unsaveable as they come.
In between, George McCartney had accelerated the collapse by bringing down Didier Drogba, which gave Lampard a chance to draw level with Jimmy Greaves as Chelsea's fifth-highest goalscorer. A decade ago, Chelsea had come to Sunderland and been demolished 4-1 in the finest display the Stadium of Light has seen. In that afterglow of triumph, their then manager, Peter Reid, confessed to feeling like John Wayne.
Last night resembled one of Wayne's films. It was the Alamo out there.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Fulop; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney; Henderson, Cana, Cattermole (Leadbitter, 59), Richardson (Reid, 84); Bent, Jones (Campbell, 59). Substitutes not used: Gordon (gk), Nosworthy, Edwards, Healy.
Chelsea (4-1-3-1-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole; Essien; Ballack, Deco (Shevchenko, 86), Lampard; Kalou (Malouda, 76); Drogba (Sturridge, 84). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Carvalho, Obi Mikel, Anelka.
Booked: Sunderland Richardson, Cana; Chelsea Ivanovic.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Man of the match: Ballack.
He's on fire
The disciplined Michael Ballack sparkled in the diamond and could have scored three.Reuse content