LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Nicklas Bendtner of Sunderland reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on January 14, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
In a tense game at Stamford Bridge Chelsea managed to dispatch one of the Premier League's hottest teams and keep a clean sheet in the process. Sunderland came into the match on a run of superb form, having only lost once under Martin O'Neill (and having beaten league leaders Manchester City in the process), and their ability to change the game with late goals meant that you'd never want to write them off in a close game.
With Daniel Sturridge not fit to play ninety minutes, the Ramires-as-a-right-winger experiment continued. That meant a midfield pairing of Frank Lampard and Raul Meireles in front of Oriol Romeu, and left Fernando Torres with another chance to lead the line. Torres has been getting praise in recent weeks for his (perhaps overstated) playmaking ability, with many fans calling for him to play a false nine role. That didn't happen against Sunderland - instead, he played like a proper striker, and played very well.
Granted, Torres didn't actually score, but if moral goals count he grabbed a belter. Juan Mata whipped in a cross from the right, and his compatriot did very well to peel off his defenders and send in a sublime scissor volley that bulleted past a mortified Simon Mignolet. Unfortunately for Torres (but not Chelsea), the ball crashed back off the crossbar rather than sailing into the back of the net. Said ball then bounced straight into Frank Lampard, who tucked into the empty net from two yards out to make it 1-0. Torres's wondershot got the striker yet another assist.
Nicklas Bendtner gave everyone a bit of a scare with a nice shot on a turn which wriggled past both Petr Cech and his far post, but for the most part Chelsea were dominant in possession and patient in probing their opposition's defence. A few players were having a tough time of things - Ashley Cole, Oriol Romeu and Raul Meireles have all had better games, but the first half was incredibly comfortable as far as the Blues were concerned.
The second was less so as the game opened up at little bit and Phil Dowd lost control. Three penalties were turned down (two for Chelsea, one for Sunderland), and Torres was booked for diving for the last. Chelsea were perhaps fortunate not to concede after a series of defensive meltdowns - everyone on the back line made at least one atrocious mistake, which are probably all going to be blamed on David Luiz because that's the cool thing to do - but the visitors just couldn't capitalise, with James McClean especially unfortunate not to have scored.
Chelsea were doing some good work of their own, with Ramires and Torres doing excellently down the right, but with Mata off the pace they weren't creating many clear-cut opportunities. The final ball was sadly lacking, especially from the wide players. There was some good news in the form of a certain Ghanaian making his season debut, with Michael Essien coming on for Frank Lampard in the 73rd minute, but the removal of Lampard, Chelsea's most effective midfielder, meant that Sunderland were far more free to come forward and attack.
Poor finishing spared the Blues' blushes - Craig Gardner and Nicklas Bendtner were both in positions to severely test Petr Cech in the late stages only for both to hit wide, but Chelsea had their chances late too and the eventual 1-0 win was more or less deserved, however nervy. For a team that's been having trouble winning at home, holding leads, and keeping clean sheets, it was pretty pleasant to have managed to do all three at once, and with Tottenham Hotspur held to a home draw by Wolves, we've narrowed that gap to six points.
We needed the win and we got one. Now we just need to go from a 6/10 performance-wise to demolishing teams.
Chelsea's man of the match?
Frank Lampard (18 votes)
Fernando Torres (228 votes)
Erm (20 votes)
Well, I don't know... (22 votes)
288 total votes