The countdown continues with our fourth to last league game of the season. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton set their sights on the visitor of the Wearsiders…
Any kind of win on Saturday will return Chelsea to the top of the pile, overnight at least. The Blues have enjoyed this fixture in recent years, averaging more than three goals a game in our 12 Premier League meetings at Stamford Bridge.
But this time the morale of visitors Sunderland, desperate to evade the drop, is hard to predict. Their draw at Manchester City on Wednesday was thoroughly deserved and ended a run of five successive defeats, yet the crucial full three points were surrendered late-on by a self-inflicted wound.
Without a win since 1 February (though that was against neighbours Newcastle) the Black Cats have lost seven of the last eight league games and drawn the other. They have still only scored six times since hitting three against the Geordies and manager Gus Poyet has muttered darkly about deep-lying issues at the heart of the club.
He took them to a Capital One Cup final, defeating José Mourinho's Blues en route, but gallant failure against Manchester City at Wembley has provided no succour from the weekly reality of league shortcomings.
Former Blues icon Poyet, one of whose most memorable goals was a spectacular volley in this same match-up in 1999, had a fine reputation as a manager before arriving but had never managed at this level before.
A more experienced but less honest boss might not have sounded such a desolate tone after defeat last weekend but it is because he cares passionately, a trait he often displayed as a player at Stamford Bridge.
Even his ill-judged kissing of the Spurs badge during a win against Chelsea was solely directed at the man he felt had squeezed him out at the Bridge, however poorly it went down among Blues fans.
It is part of football lore that injured players return quicker to a successful team than a struggling one and Poyet declared only 17 first team players were fit enough to face City.
Incredibly his side put in one of their best performances of the season and, but for a moment of tin-hand paddling from goalkeeper Vito Mannone, would have become only the second team to win at City after Chelsea.
Despite being written off in the media the Citizens are still in the title race, though their manager suggesting the club was shattered by the recent loss at Liverpool does put their readiness for battle into question.
Easter football, meanwhile, is not the packed schedule it once was. Back in 1999 Keith Sinclair, vicar of Aston parish, ordered his church bells to ring out during Chelsea's Sunday morning visit to nearby Villa Park. It was 'symbolic mourning' of football's encroachment into Easter Sunday services on the holiest day in the Christian calendar.
Yet since medieval times the moveable feast of Easter had been the traditional time for mob football matches such as Workington's 'Uppies and Downies'. In the professional era an intense fixture list was organised to entertain crowds enjoying a rare long weekend off work. Falling so close to the decision-making end of the season as it usually does, the Easter schedule earned a make-or-break reputation.
During Chelsea's debut season, 1905/06, a remarkable league crowd record of 67,000 enjoyed the Good Friday sunshine and saw the Pensioners draw with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.
Crucially the Red Devils remained above the Londoners in the promotion race and, after Jackie Robertson's men drew the following day at Grimsby and at home to Glossop three days later, Easter football had sealed Chelsea's fate.
This is still sometimes the case in the Football League: Championship sides, for instance, will play on Good Friday or Saturday and again on Easter Monday. With greater pressure from other competitions and concerns about recovery time, it is more rare for Premier League sides to undergo such a rigorous examinations.
Chelsea played twice over the last Easter holiday only because the FA Cup replay with Man United was scheduled for Monday 1 April. And if you like omens, Chelsea's hero last weekend at Swansea, Demba Ba, was also the only goalscorer in that win against the Mancunians.
At Easter 56 years ago, on 19 April 1957, Chelsea became the first club to fly domestically from a football match. The jet-set Pensioners had to be back from a match at Newcastle in time for Everton's visit to the capital the next day.
Sunderland will aim to become the first visitors in 10 to breach the Chelsea defence at Stamford Bridge. However, all five of the Blues' league defeats this season have come in games immediately prior to Champions League midweeks.
Chelsea are the last English side still competing in Europe and have been allowed the least preparation time of the four remaining sides. This game was brought forward to Saturday at 5.30pm by the Premier League from its previous TV slot of Sunday 4pm and is one of the fairest available given that Sunderland played on Wednesday.
However, our Champions League opponents Atletico play Eiche at home this weekend, the match being brought forward to Friday by La Liga to maximise their preparations for the first leg of Tuesday's semi-final.
The other Madrid side in the last four, Real, were also in action on Wednesday, beating Barcelona to lift the King's Cup. As a result Spanish football authorities have postponed their Primera match this weekend to give them a clear run to Wednesday's UEFA clash. Their opponents, Bayern, play on Saturday afternoon.
The race for the Premier League Golden Boot
Luis Suarez (Liverpool) 29
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) 20
Yaya Toure (Man City) 18
Sergio Aguero (Man City) 15
Jay Rodriguez (Southampton) 15
Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) 15
Eden Hazard 14
The race for the Premier League Golden Glove
Petr Cech 16
Tim Howard (Everton) 13
Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal) 13
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham) 12
David De Gea (Man Utd) 11
|The Premier League run in|
|Sat 19 Apr||Sunderland (h)|
|Sun 20 Apr||Norwich (a)|
|Mon 21 Apr||West Brom (h)|
|Sun 27 Apr||Liverpool (a)||Chelsea (h)||C Palace (a)|
|Sat 3 May||Everton (a)|
|Sun 4 May||Norwich (h)|
|Mon 5 May||C Palace (a)|
|Wed 7 May||Aston Villa (h)|
|Sun 11 May||Cardiff (a)||Newcastle (h)||West Ham (h)|
Leaders Liverpool visit Norwich on Sunday; they have hit five in each of the last three encounters with Canaries. On Monday West Brom play away at Man City, whom they lost narrowly to in the reverse fixture.
Barclays Premier League fixtures
Tottenham v Fulham 12.45pm - BT Sport
Aston Villa v Southampton 3pm
Cardiff v Stoke 3pm
Newcastle v Swansea 3pm
West Ham v Crystal Palace 3pm
Chelsea v Sunderland 5.30pm - Sky Sports
Norwich v Liverpool 12pm - Sky Sports
Hull v Arsenal 2.05pm - Sky Sports
Everton v Man Utd 4.10pm - Sky Sports
Man City v West Brom 8pm - Sky Sports
Sunderland are six points from safety with five games remaining.
|Barclays Premier League table - top seven|
Click on tabs above for more briefing.
Sunderland almost did Chelsea more of a favour than themselves against Manchester City. The Blues now know that victory in the four remaining games will bring the league title to Stamford Bridge for the fifth time; Saturday's visitors have enjoyed that rare honour on six occasions.
The better side for much of the first half against an off-colour City team, Gus Poyet's side were causing particular problems from set-plays but failing to score, while poor defending had allowed the Citizens to take the lead inside two minutes. Any similar lapse at the Bridge on Saturday evening would hopefully ensure greater punishment for the Mackems as Chelsea chase football's top prizes.
With Steven Fletcher still absent through injury and the powerful but ponderous Jozy Altidore relegated to the bench, Connor Wickham emerged as their main threat on Wednesday.
He had endured 29 games without scoring before equalising at the Etihad, his most recent top-flight strike being in January 2011. Substitute Emanuele Giaccherini's intelligence on a breakaway led to his second. The two goals showed pace of thought and foot that Wickham has long promised but rarely delivered.
Jose Mourinho will have noted that Sunderland dominated City's midfield in the absence of Yaya Toure. Jack Colback was the playmaking architect alongside Seb Larsson (or his replacement Giaccherini) in the centre behind Wickham, with Adam Johnson and Fabio Borini (pictured below) staying wide. Anchoring midfield, Lee Cattermole was the hod-carrier who occasionally threw brickbats at opponents.
Chelsea youth team graduate Liam Bridcutt missed out in midweek but may return to central midfield.
The Mackems' mastery in this area and at set-plays (where John O'Shea twice went close with his head) was what undid the Citizens on their own patch, albeit in front of stands that were far from full or hostile.
Poyet clearly instructed his players to seek out wide forwards Johnson and former Blue Borini as swiftly as possible, and with more endeavour than has been evident recently they produced waves of attacks.
The Sunderland goals were just desert for such ambition and Colback frequently turned up in dangerous positions behind what regularly became a front three.
At the back Sunderland look in less rude health. Wholehearted full-back Phil Bardsley is still suspended and there are signs the old Man United axis of Wes Brown and O'Shea in central defence is creaking under the regularity of games. Chelsea will hope to exploit the visitors' failure to close down opponents quickly on the edge of their box.
With that in mind Samuel Eto'o, so comfortable at the Bridge and often key to unlocking parked buses, may start.
Former Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone was distraught at the clumsy flap that led to City's equaliser on Wednesday and the stealthy Cameroonian is every sticksman's nightmare.
However Fernando Torres, benched during last weekend's win at Swansea, will be hoping for a return. Demba Ba netted two vital goals in six days last week and may be rested ahead of Tuesday's Champions League trip to Madrid and Liverpool next weekend.
Even with the luxury of a free week just completed, Jose is likely to rest some players he has in mind for the Atletico match. Eden Hazard is a doubt to return in time for that action but he may also nurse some other midfielders through the next few weeks.
Midfield enforcer Nemanja Matic and winger Mohamed Salah, whose pace and trickery produced several chances in Wales to add to his recent goals tally, are likely to feature. Neither is eligible for European games this season.
With full-back Branislav Ivanovic suspended from Tuesday's game we may see Ashley Cole feature at some stage for the second time since his injury, so that Cesar Azpilicueta may reacquaint himself with the right-flank role.
WE HAVE HISTORY
Six times Chelsea have played a relegation-bound Sunderland side and on each occasion - 1969/70, 1984/85, 1990/91, 1996/97, 2002/03, 2005/06 - the Blues have won at home in the league, with an aggregate 17 goals to five.
In January 1970 Chelsea were handily-placed third in the First Division and hopeful of further progress in the FA Cup when Sunderland visited. The Rokerites were in the bottom three and fighting for their lives.
Referee Clive Thomas booked two Sunderland men - skipper Colin Todd and Les Irwin - as well as Blues' left-back Eddie McCreadie in a bad-tempered encounter. After one great early chance and a penalty shout for the north-easterners went begging, Chelsea took control of the game with two strikes in six minutes.
Peter Osgood scored both, the first a tap-in from a cross Jim Montgomery might have prevented, the second a brilliantly precise curling shot round the keeper.
With Tommy Baldwin on for the hamstrung Ron Harris and a cup tie with Crystal Palace on their minds, Dave Sexton's men took their collective foot off the Sunderland throat.
Only when Joe Baker headed in a shot that had rebounded off the bar did the Blues rouse themselves. It was Osgood who ended their challenge, cleverly latching onto an errant pass towards Montgomery and dispatching for his hat-trick to make it 3-1.
Mick McCarthy was in charge in September 2005 when Sunderland faced a Jose Mourinho side on course for back-to-back titles at the Bridge. The visitors held their own in the first half but a rash throw-out by goalie Kelvin Davis put Andy Welsh under pressure. Geremi picked the full-back's pocket and slammed the opener under Davis.
Didier Drogba, on for Hernan Crespo, completed a 2-0 win by heading in fellow substitute Damien Duff's cross inside the last 10 minutes. The result kept Chelsea top of the league with five straight victories and no goals conceded.
Chelsea have won 17 of our last 18 Premier League meetings over the last 12 years. Sunderland's only win in that period was in November 2010 when goals from Nedum Onuoha, Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck without reply secured the three points at Stamford Bridge.
The Black Cats only other win at the Bridge in the last 57 years was in March 2001 when Sunderland beat Chelsea 4-2 despite the Blues taking the lead twice through Marcel Desailly and Eidur Gudjohnsen. Don Hutchison with two, Gavin McCann and Kevin Phillips scored for the visitors.
Our last 10 league meetings at Stamford Bridge
2000/01 - Sunderland won 4-2
2001/02 - Chelsea won 4-0
2002/03 - Chelsea won 3-0
2005/06 - Chelsea won 2-0
2007/08 - Chelsea won 2-0
2008/09 - Chelsea won 5-0
2009/10 - Chelsea won 7-2
2010/11 - Sunderland won 3-0
2011/12 - Chelsea won 1-0
2012/13 - Chelsea won 2-1
Other matches this season
4 December 2013 Barclays Premier League
Altidore 13 Lampard 17
O'Shea 49 Hazard 36, 61
Bardsley 85 Bardsley og 83
17 December 2013 Capital One Cup quarter-final
Sunderland.……..…..2 Chelsea………..……1 (aet)
Borini 88 Lampard 46
Ki Sung-Yueng 118
Chelsea v Sunderland in all competitions
Games played 118
Chelsea wins 57
Sunderland wins 40
Head to head in the League at Stamford Bridge
Games played 56
Chelsea wins 37
Sunderland wins 8
Biggest league win at Stamford Bridge for each team
Chelsea 7-2 Sunderland - 16/01/2010
Chelsea 1-4 Sunderland - 12/03/1910
Chelsea dropped points at Stamford Bridge: 80
Sunderland won away from home: 77
Arsenal won a trophy: 3,255
Liverpool won the league: 8,750
We have the best home Barclays Premier League record, winning 47 from a possible 51 points.
Chelsea have the best defence in the Premier League conceding only 24 goals in 34 games including 16 clean sheets.
Nine of our 15 Premier League games in 2014 have been goalless at half-time.
Chelsea have won 13 and drawn two of the 15 games we have been ahead at half-time.
We have only lost seven points from winning positions this term.
The Blues have won 19 and drawn two of the 22 league games when we have scored the opening goal. Stoke away was the only time we lost after taking the lead.
The Blues are 10 points up compared to the corresponding 34 fixtures last season.
In 2014 we have kept 14 clean sheets and conceded just 11 goals in 22 games in all competitions.
Chelsea have won 22 and drawn four of our last 26 home Premier League games, since QPR won at Stamford Bridge on 2 January last year.
Jose Mourinho is unbeaten at Stamford Bridge in all 93 domestic games in open play.
He takes charge of his 78th Premier League game at Stamford Bridge this weekend. He remains unbeaten, gaining 199 points from a possible 231.
|Last six results|
||Arsenal (h)||W 6-0|
|Mar 29||Crystal Palace (a)||L 0-1|
|Apr 2||PSG (Champions League a)||L 1-3|
|Apr 5||Stoke (h)||W 3-0|
|Apr 8||Paris Saint-Germain (Champions League h)||W 2-0|
|Apr 13||Swansea (a)||W 1-0|
League games since
A home win: 0
A home draw: 5
A home defeat: 26
|Chelsea's next three games|
|Tue 22 Apr||Atletico Madrid Champions League semi-final first leg away||7.45pm|
|Sun 27 Apr||Liverpool away||2.05pm|
|Wed 30 Apr||Atletico Madrid (Champions League) home||7.45pm|
Chelsea have kept nine successive clean sheets at Stamford Bridge and are seeking to equal our record of 10, originally set in 1927 and repeated in 2010.
If selected Gary Cahill will play his 50th game of the season for club and country.
Frank Lampard's next converted penalty will be his 50th for the Blues.
6 League championships, last in 1936
2 FA Cups, last in 1973
1 FA Charity Shield in 1936
Sunderland's last major piece of silverware was the FA Cup in 1973 when Ian Porterfield scored the winner against Leeds for the Second Division side.
Sunderland have won two points from the last 27 and have lost five of their last six in the Premier League.
Gus Poyet's side have won 14 from a possible 51 points on the road. They have managed three wins at Everton, Fulham and Newcastle, five draws against Southampton, Aston Villa, West Ham, Cardiff and Sunderland and defeats to Crystal Palace, West Brom, Swansea, Hull, Stoke, Arsenal, Norwich, Liverpool and Tottenham.
Sixty-nine per cent of Sunderland's points have been achieved against teams from the top half of the Premier League.
The Black Cats have not won any of the 18 games their opposition scored first, losing 15 and drawing three.
They have only gained three points from losing positions this term.
The Black Cats have failed to score in 13 Premier League games this term.
Their four penalties in the Premier League have been scored by four different players.
Poyet's side have beaten Man Utd, Chelsea and Southampton (twice) in cup competitions this season.
Manager Gustavo Poyet
Days in charge: 193
|Sunderland's last 10 year league history|
|Last six results|
|Norwich (a)||L 0-2|
|Mar 26||Liverpool (a)||L 1-2|
|Mar 31||West Ham (h)||L 1-2|
|Apr 7||Tottenham (a)||L 1-5|
|Apr 12||Everton (h)||L 0-1|
|Apr 16||Man City (a)||D 2-2|
Premier League scorers (31)
Johnson 8 (1 pen), Borini 3 (1 pen), Giaccherini 3, Fletcher 3, Ki Sung-Yueng 3 (1 pen), Bardsley 2, Colback 2, Gardner 2 (1 pen), Wickham 2, Altidore 1, Cattermole 1, O'Shea 1.
League games since
An away win: 5
An away draw: 0
An away defeat: 1
Black Cats' major completed January transfers and spring loans
Ins Marcus Alonso (Fiorentina, loan), Santiago Vergini (Estudiantes, loan), Oscar Ustari (Almeria, free), Ignacio Scocco (Internacional, undisclosed), Liam Bridcutt (Brighton, £2.5m)
Outs Cabral (Genoa, loan), Ji Dong-Won (Augsburg, undisclosed), Billy Knott (Port Vale, loan), Modibo Diakite (Fiorentina, loan), Danny Graham (Middlesbrough, loan), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest, loan), Alfred N'Diaye (Real Betis, loan)
THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Mike Dean is the official for his fourth Chelsea match this term. He was the referee for our 1-1 draw at Tottenham in September, our goalless draw at Arsenal just before Christmas and our 1-0 win at Man City in February.
Phil Bardsley is suspended for Sunderland.
Visit again tomorrow for Part Two of the Briefing.