SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Daniel Sturridge of Chelsea celebrates with his team mates after scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Chelsea at the Stadium of Light on September 10, 2011 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Chelsea played their first complete match of the season, beating Sunderland 2-1 at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. That scoreline doesn't really reflect either sides performance - Chelsea deserved more than two and Sunderland would have been lucky to get zero on most days. It wasn't a match that's going to spark fear into the hearts of Manchester United, who've just finished up an absolute pasting of poor Bolton Wanderers, but it was much better than anything else Chelsea have managed this season, so that's an improvement.
Andre Villas-Boas opted to rest John Obi Mikel and Fernando Torres for new signing Raul Meireles and Nicolas Anelka respectively, also reinstating goalkeeper Petr Cech following his recovery from an knee ligament injury. A first start was given to both Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge, and the entire forward line was given something of a free role in front of the deep-lying midfield trio.
A free role is just what Mata thrives on, and he shone in Chelsea's new-look attack. For the early part of the game, Sunderland were barely getting out of their own half, leaving Meireles with absolutely nothing to do as the midfield holder apart from launch attacks from deep.
Chelsea were still having problems generating chances, however - with Anelka dropping relatively deep and the wide players not really coming into scoring positions Simon Mignolet hadn't had a save to make before Mata struck the outside of the post from a free kick well won by Anelka. Fortunately for the Blues, the ball stayed in play, and eventually Sturridge was able to swing in a cross to John Terry in space on the left, the captain first attempting to slide the ball in to Anelka before picking up the rebound and slamming home from a tight angle.
Mignolet had to be alert to cut out Anelka's shot fifteen minutes later, but Chelsea were still having real difficulty creating from open play - there were far too many shots from range and no real ability (Mata excepted) to unlock a defence that was keeping things very tight. Wes Brown was making things very difficult in the middle of Sunderland's defence, but that's not really an excuse for the team's inability to make possession count for chances.
The half ended on a sour note, with Phil Bardsley stamping on Mata as the winger lay face down in the grass. The right back really ought to have been sent off for that, whether or not he immediately checked to see if the Chelsea man was alright. He's very lucky referee Lee Probert didn't spot the infraction, and it wouldn't be out of the question for the FA to issue a ban once they review the tape.
Anyway, Raul Meireles was looking pretty good in his Chelsea debut, and things were about to get even better for him - having broken up a Sunderland attack he spotted the run of Sturridge straight down the middle, threading a perfect forty-yard pass for the striker to run onto. Sturridge easily outpaced the defended and beat Mignolet with the cheekiest of backheel finishes, the ball trickling into the back of the net off the post as Brown frantically tried to clear.
At 2-0, the game was clearly over, and Villas-Boas started switching things up, with Florent Malouda, Fernando Torres and Oriol Romeu all introduced at various stages of the game. Despite Malouda's first touch being a rasping volley that Mignolet did well to keep out, the team never really gelled after the substitutions - and the less said about Torres' play the better - but Romeu looked good in the double pivot he was fielded in alongside Meireles when he finally came on.
Chelsea were in complete control of the match for ninety minutes, but forgot to keep that intensity going through stoppage time. Jose Bosingwa, who had been pretty good going forward but frequently found nobody in the box to convert his crosses, was at fault for the goal when he failed to follow the rest of his defensive line into an offside trap, leaving both Nicklas Bendtner and substitute Ji Dong-Won free in the box. The former flicked to the latter and the South Korea striker marked his debut appearance with the Black Cats with a thoroughly undeserved goal.
2-1 made for a nervy finish, but Chelsea held out pretty well (wasting, somehow, a three-on-one chance in the process). 2-1 was a good win, but it wasn't a spectacular one, and there's clearly much work to be done still. Chelsea have just threes days until their next match against Bayer Leverkusen, and while they can win it on this form, Manchester United loom next weekend. Scary.
Chelsea's man of the match?
John Terry (36 votes)
Juan Mata (187 votes)
Ashley Cole (20 votes)
Daniel Sturridge (95 votes)
Raul Meireles (66 votes)
Other (6 votes)
410 total votes