As the festival of the FA Cup third round is put to rest for another year, the Premier League returns in full swing this weekend and Saturday’s clash between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge could be the game of the weekend.
Just a month ago, this fixture would have justifiably attracted little interest, but how quickly things change in football, with both sides enjoying vastly contrasting fortunes over the festive period.
On December 12th, Chelsea celebrated victory over Manchester City, their third victory in a ‘make-or-break’ week, and it was believed that the corner had been turned.
Fast forward five league games and the Blues have only tasted victory once, thanks to Frank Lampard’s last-gasp tap-in against Wolves at Molineux last time out.
Conversely, Martin O’Neill’s arrival at the Stadium of Light has transformed Sunderland. A team that had previously won once in nine fixtures now have four victories in O’Neill’s first six league matches in charge.
Last Sunday they negotiated their passage through a potentially tricky cup tie at Peterborough with consummate ease and even Lee Cattermole looks a player again!
How Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas could do with conjuring up similar powers of motivation – but they could elude him yet again at 3pm on Saturday.
[Sessegnon’s] lightning speed and direct approach could further unsettle a Chelsea rearguard who have looked vulnerable this term when facing such qualities, whether sitting deep or using Villas-Boas’ much-maligned high defensive line.
O’Neill’s boys may well prove good value for a point and the Northern Irishman has a good record for grabbing score draws at Stamford Bridge, with four from his past eight visits.
The last time the two teams met, Daniel Sturridge’s cheeky back-heeled attempt proved to be the winner and Chelsea’s top scorer is priced at 7/2 to net first on Saturday.
The England forward has netted nine league goals this season and having recovered from a minor knee complaint, he looks the best bet to fill the void left by Didier Drogba, who has joined up with the Ivory Coast in preparation for the African Cup of Nations.
Fernando Torres is most likely to replace Drogba at the centre of Chelsea’s attack, but he continues to be the longest-running joke in world football. His record now stands at only five goals in 42 appearances since his move to Stamford Bridge – a cool £10 million a goal.
Torres is also 7/2 to net first, though for anyone brave enough to gamble on the Spaniard making a sudden return to form then the anytime scorer price of evens might be safest.
Punters seeking goalscorer value elsewhere in the Chelsea ranks should look no further than Frank Lampard.
Despite an apparent difference in opinions between Villas-Boas and the England midfielder, Lampard has netted the last goal five times this campaign, including the last two matches with Wolves and Portsmouth.
He is 6/1 to do so again against the Black Cats, meaning new customers using their free £25 bet for joining bwin.com would pocket £175 if Lampard successfully nets last.
Scoring goals hasn’t been too much of a problem for Chelsea this season – the Blues have only failed to score in two of their 20 league matches to date. Instead, it has been a propensity to concede that sees them currently 11 points off the summit.
In the seven seasons since Jose Mourinho took his special self to the Bridge, from the summer of 2004 up to the start of this campaign, Chelsea had conceded only 78 goals in 133 Premier League home matches at an average of 0.59 goals per game.
Their worst total was in 2009/10, a season that saw them concede 14 but also win the league and FA Cup double.
This year, the Blues have shipped 16 goals in their first ten home league matches and that record should continue against Sunderland, who boast Nicklas Bendtner and Stéphane Sessègnon in attack.
Bendtner is 8/1 to net first or last, but Sessègnon could be a better bet at 9/1, as the Benin international has netted three of his four goals away from home this season.
His lightning speed and direct approach could further unsettle a Chelsea rearguard who have looked vulnerable this term when facing such qualities, whether sitting deep or using Villas-Boas’ much-maligned high defensive line.
Punters who back Sessegnon to net first at 9/1 with their free £25 bet could expect returns of £250, while the former PSG schemer is a 5/2 shot to hit the back of the net at some stage in west London.
Young Irish winger James McClean has caught the eye since breaking into the Sunderland line-up and could also be worth a look at lengthy odds of 14/1 to break the deadlock.
The former Derry City winger was first spotted by O’Neill terrorising Manchester United’s reserves and has scored in the Black Cats’ last two matches. He is priced at 4/1 to net any time and continue his fine form at the Bridge.
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