Who: Chelsea FC vs. Sunderland AFC
What: English Premier League Week 35
Where: Stamford Bridge, West London, England, United Kingdom
When: Saturday, April 19, 2014
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast Stamford Bridge
Time: 5:30 p.m. (UK) 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT
TV: NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra (US); Sky Sports 1/HD (UK)
Worldwide Livestreams and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
Radio: TalkSport Radio
Referee: Mike Dean
3-Way Odds: Chelsea -500, Sunderland +1200, Draw +600
Total: Over 2½ -200, Under 2½ +165
Decimal Odds: Chelsea 1.20, Sunderland 13.00, Draw 7.00
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 1.50, Under 2½ 2.65
Fractional Odds: Chelsea 1/5, Sunderland 12/1, Draw 6/1
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 1/2, Under 2½ 33/20
Alternate Odds: Chelsea -1½ -165, Sunderland +1½ +135
Chelsea -2½ +155, Sunderland +2½ -185
Over 3½ +125, Under 3½ -150
Over 4½ +290, Under 4½ -375
First Half: Chelsea -1 +105, Sunderland +1 -135
Over 1½ +120, Under 1½ -155
Chelsea -190, Sunderland +900, Draw +200
Odds to Win Premier League: Liverpool 2/3, Manchester City 9/4, Chelsea 9/2
Source: Bovada (Kahnawake, Canada)
3-Way Odds: Chelsea 1/5, Sunderland 12/1, Draw 11/2
Total: Over 2½ 1/2, Under 2½ 6/4
Source: Sky Bet (Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom)
It will be really hard for Chelsea not to look ahead to the immense challenge that lies ahead on its immediate schedule, but for 90 minutes on Saturday, the Blues will have to focus on beating Sunderland—the last-place team in the English Premier League—to stay in the thick of the race as the season quickly begins to wind down.
Being upset by the 20th-place Black Cats would be more than unlucky for Chelsea and manager Jose Mourinho. A loss here would pretty much eliminate the second-place Blues from the title race and create a recurring nightmare the team may never get over, especially with the game being at Stamford Bridge and Mourinho having a 77-game EPL unbeaten streak in the friendly West London confines.
Chelsea (23-6-5, 75 points) heads into the weekend two points behind league leaders Liverpool (77 points), who are at Norwich City on Sunday (NBC Sports Network, 7 a.m. ET/4 a.m. PT), while third-place Manchester City plays host to West Bromwich Albion on Monday (NBC Sports Network, 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT).
The Sky Blues will still have one game in hand on both the Reds (34) and the Blues (34) come Monday night, with the two league leaders then both having just three games left on their schedules, including the now biggest match of the season—next Sunday’s showdown between the two clubs (Chelsea-Liverpool) at Anfield. Breathe.
Struggling Sunderland sits in last place in the Premier League standings thanks to its 20th-place form and the Black Cats have the word "relegation" now implanted in their daily vocabulary. And with this fixture at Chelsea and another against Manchester United at Old Trafford (May 3), things are looking pretty dismal right now for manager Gus Poyet and Sunderland’s fans.
One big problem for the Black Cats this season has been offense and the club’s 29 goals is the third least in the Premier League ahead of only Crystal Palace (24 goals) and Norwich (26 goals). Adam Johnson (eight goals) is the only Sunderland player with more than three goals.
Having another underwhelming season for the Black Cats is striker Jozy Altidore (one goal) but the 24-year-old American—who hasn’t even been named to the club’s first team the last two games—is only one of a number of problems which have doomed the Capital One Cup runners-up.
Goalkeeper Vito Mannone has been a bright spot for Sunderland, as has been Liverpool-loanee Fabio Borini (three goals) whom the Black Cats would love to bring to Wearside permanently after the way he’s played this season. But the possibility this club’s future matches won’t be in England’s top flight of football may affect that potential decision.
The Blues—who have still allowed just one goal in Premier League play this calendar year—and goalkeeper Petr Cech enter this game on a streak of five consecutive league clean sheets at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea already has a league-leading 14 shutouts—as many as it had all of last season—and still boasts the EPL’s best defense (24 goals allowed).
Hey, you can’t win if you can’t score, right?
Offensively, it’s again pretty much been all hands in for the Blues whose only double-digit scorer is the ailing Eden Hazard (14 goals) with Samuel Eto’o (eight goals), Oscar (eight goals), Andre Schurrle (seven goals) and Frank Lampard (six goals) following for the Europa League champs.
But when one thinks about how Chelsea’s defenders—John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic in particular—have scored over the past couple of seasons, and whose names aren’t in this mix, and it’s easy to get excited about the Blues' chances of still making some noise in 2014.
Third-string striker Demba Ba—he of The Two Big Goals in the Blues' last two games—is one of those names, as is Fernando Torres, Willian, Ramires, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and new signees Mohamed Salah and Nemanja Matic, so, Chelsea basically has a bunch of really hungry and capable guys who can potentially score goals.
Toss in an unbeaten record at home (15-2-0 at home) with Mourinho’s monumental SW6 streak, the one-goal-at-home thing and the importance of the three points here, and Sunderland find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time in this one.
If a Chelsea fan, are you worried about this game?
Expect the Black Cats to put up a gallant fight, but head home to the Stadium of Light in Tyne and Wear in pretty much the same mood they came in with...foul.
The Blues are a dominating 9-0-1 (29 goals for, 16 goals against) in the last 10 Premier League meetings against Sunderland with nine of those 10 going over the bookmakers usual posted total of 2½. Forty-five goals in 10 games will do that.
Sunderland did eliminate Chelsea from the Capital One Cup in the quarterfinals in December, 2-1, when Borini tied the game at the 88-minute mark and Ki Sung-Yueng provided the eventual game-winner in extra time.
With the pressure on Chelsea to avoid the upset here and get the three points by hook or by crook, the Blues and the defense will come through and shut out the Black Cats and get three goals from three different, unsuspecting goal scorers in front of a raucous Stamford Bridge crowd.
Maybe the hard-working Matic (four assists) gets his first in a Chelsea uniform?
Knowing that Liverpool isn’t playing until Sunday, The Special One will want his team to get out in front early, so expect a quick pace and a high possession percentage from the home team from the opening whistle. Thanks to strong defensive pressure on the ball, the Blues should get that coveted "early" (first 30 minutes) goal and set the tone for the rest of the game.
And aware that he can’t use the cup-tied Matic or Salah in Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League semi-final opening leg against Atletico Madrid, expect Mourinho to lean heavily on the two January signees here and this is the perfect situation for the duo to strut their stuff for the home crowd as well as give some valuable rest to other midfielders.
With this massively important first coming leg versus Atletico at Vicente Calderon (April 22), followed by the aforementioned Premier League Game of the Year against Liverpool at Merseyside (April 27), followed quickly by the second semi-finals leg against Los Rojiblancos back in London (April 30), it’s safe to say this stretch on Chelsea's schedule is easily the toughest, most important and maybe most exciting stretch of the entire season.
But to keep the momentum moving forward and the Little Horses in tip-top shape for the homestretch, Mourinho and the Blues must first take care of business here at home this weekend against Sunderland or run the risk of having to dwell on the unlikeliest of speed bumps.
Let’s hope not.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 3 Sunderland 0
BETS: Chelsea -190 (First Half), Chelsea -1½ -165
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