Chelsea left Wearside goalless last night. Such is the free-scoring excellence of Jose Mourinho’s team, that merits headlines: this was the first time this season it has happened.
Chelsea remain unbeaten as Sunderland were also unable to find the net, but Gus Poyet might just have set down a template others will strive to copy. Sunderland’s plan involved intense defence – in which Lee Cattermole and John O’Shea stood out – accompanied by breakaways whenever possible. Chelsea were fluent without being brilliant and gradually their control gave way to a more even contest. Sunderland deserved their point.
An indication of the confidence bred by success could be seen in Chelsea’s consistency: for the third game running, Mourinho named the same starting XI. There would be no let up. That, certainly, is how Sunderland must have felt as Chelsea imposed themselves like a clamp on the Stadium of Light. From kick-off, the hosts were squeezed into their last third.
It was a measure of the respect Poyet’s men were giving the league leaders, but it was also because Sunderland had little alternative. With Cesc Fabregas, Matic and Oscar impeccable in possession, Sunderland had to fight for every yard. It must have felt like there was a lack of air. When they did manage to gain the ball, the lack of a release valve became apparent. Steven Fletcher, the lone striker, was back helping out. So the blue shirts came again.
For all that, Chelsea found the massed red-and-white lines too dense to split with ease. It was 13 minutes before Oscar produced their first shot on target and, though Willian hit a post four minutes later, Costel Pantilimon was not forced into a decent save until shortly after the half-hour. Pantilimon made a block with his right foot to deny Branislav Ivanovic following a superb one-touch pass from Willian.
But Sunderland held on to parity until half-time and could claim a strike of the woodwork themselves. They had a few moments of forward momentum, mainly down the left where Connor Wickham was persistent, although it was a Lee Cattermole run down the right on 34 minutes that led to a shot from Santiago Vergini which clipped the top of Thibaut Courtois’ crossbar.
Diego Costa was quiet. For him. There was an exquisite through-ball from Fabregas that required an excellent tackle from John O’Shea on Costa, and those two then clashed on the touchline. There were excitable claims that Costa lashed out at O’Shea. Referee Kevin Friend merely had a word with both men. It was good refereeing. But Costa may have been beginning to feel some pressure building within himself. The second half started with Chelsea again imposing their play upon Sunderland in their last third, but the hosts were still holding their own.
Then 10 minutes after half-time Costa jumped with Wes Brown near the halfway line and left a trailing arm. It smacked Brown in the face. The crowd shouted for a red card, Friend brought out the yellow.
Poyet then introduced an unpredictable centre-forward of his own, Jozy Altidore, and the American earned Sunderland some territory in the Chelsea’s half and there was further home encouragement when Wickham stung the hands of Courtois from 20 yards.
Costa’s influence, apart form the odd scrape, declined to the stage where he was replaced by Loic R émy and Mourinho also sent on Didier Drogba, though it was Altidore who was the next to be closest to breaking the deadlock. That was in the 82nd minute and it was followed swiftly by another Altidore burst. This one resulted in a stabbed shot from Adam Johnson. Sunderland were finishing with energy.
Sunderland: (4-1-4-1) Pantilimon; Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, Reveilliere; Cattermole; Johnson, Larsson, Rodwell (Gomez, 62), Wickham; Fletcher (Altidore, 62).
Chelsea: (4-2-3-1) Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic; Fabregas; Willian (Schürrle, 85), Oscar (Drogba, 76), Hazard; Costa (Remy, 76).
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Man of the match: Lee Cattermole (Sunderland).
Match rating: 6/10.Reuse content