After knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup and building up a healthy Europa League first-leg lead over Rubin Kazan, it’s been a hectic and happy few days for Chelsea.
But as per usual, nothing is ever quite plain sailing at this club and a week ago they put in an abject performance away to Southampton to drop crucial points in their chase for a top-four finish.
As good as progress in the knockout competitions is, the Blues really need to land that Champions League place and three points against Sunderland on Sunday is the only option.
After the Black Cats’ visit, Rafa Benitez must take his side to Fulham, Liverpool and Manchester United as well as hosting Tottenham and Everton in a tricky close to the campaign, so it’s imperative they do not slip up against the Wearsiders.
Martin O’Neill was dismissed after overseeing a run of eight league games without a win and Paolo Di Canio must now pick up the pieces of a side left dangling worryingly close to the drop zone.
If O’Neill was still in charge I’d be straight on Chelsea, but the potential of the ‘new gaffer effect’ warrants some further consideration.
Early suggestions that Di Canio will select a side featuring 11 right-wingers should prove to be false, but if the team he does pick can raise their game from recent weeks, then the visitors could make it tough for Chelsea.
Last time out at home in the league, the Londoners showed no ill effects from a Thursday night fixture by seeing off West Ham in stylish fashion and if they play anywhere near as smoothly as they did that day, the points will only be going one way.
But this will be Chelsea’s fourth game in nine days and there’s bound to be some weary limbs on show.
Nevertheless, bwin’s 3Way football betting market has the hosts as strong 3/10 favourites for the win, with Sunderland adrift at 9/1 and the draw 4/1.
The best I can see Di Canio getting on his bow is the draw, and given the importance of this game for Chelsea, I reckon they’ll have enough to pull through to tighten their grip on a top-four place.
With Bale FC now facing a battle to stave off relegation following an ankle injury to omnipotent goalscoring presence Gareth Bale, the visit of Sunderland offers the perfect opportunity for Chelsea to do the necessary and exert pressure on other parts of the capital.
Benitez rested John Obi Mikel, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Demba Ba for the clash with Rubin Kazan, and that lot coming back into the fold makes Chelsea a solid bet in my eyes.
It’s also worth noting that Chelsea have won 15 of the past 16 clashes between the pair, and they will have extended that sequence by the time Songs of Praise comes on.
How they go about their business is another matter. Chelsea haven’t been particularly quick out of the blocks in many games this season and with Di Canio likely to have pumped up his men, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is all square at the break.
The half-time 0-0 has become a staple score for Chelsea recently and you can have that at 5/2, and if you do reckon the sides will be tied at the interval, the half-time draw/Chelsea win could interest you at 3/1.
A price of 3/10 for the Blues win isn’t going to pay for your holiday, and even them with under 3.5 goals at 19/20 won’t get you rich quick.
If you do think Benitez’s boys will exert their class then 37/20 for them to win both halves isn’t a bad shout, but I reckon this will be closer for comfort than many of the Stamford Bridge faithful will hope for, and 2-1 Chelsea is drawing me in at 27/4.
Taking that on another notch, there’s some fantastic value in the scorecast market and Demba Ba first scorer in a 2-1 Chelsea victory is remarkably well priced at 80/1 and that’s certainly worth a couple of quid as a shot to nothing.