A rather momentous Weekend in the Barclays Premier League, as Chelsea failed to score for the very first time this season, as they dropped points for only the third time. They are, of course, still unbeaten, but they might not be entirely unstoppable.
Whether this will have any effect on where the title ends up at the end of the season, we’ll have to wait and see. A Sky Sports Twitter poll certainly suggests that us fans don’t think it will, with 55% predicting that Man City won’t catch the current league leaders.
POLL UPDATE: Will Manchester City catch Chelsea? 55% of you now say NO! Keep voting using #ssnhqyes or #ssnhqno pic.twitter.com/RUk2EyBVkl— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ)December 1, 2014
On the face of it, it was perhaps not a huge surprise that Chelsea might Draw at Sunderland – Gus Poyet’s men are undoubtedly the draw specialists this season, with 8 draws in 13 games – but the Black Cats have defended rather woefully of late. It wasn’t that long ago that they followed up an embarrassing 8-0 home defeat to Southampton with two defensive shockers that handed the points to Arsenal the weekend after.
In short, the Sunderland back five have endured a serious crisis of confidence this season. Thankfully for Poyet, they came good this weekend: that back five back-fived, and ahead of them, a certain Lee Cattermole trampled whatever was thrown at him. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.
It didn’t take a tactical genius to understand Sunderland’s gameplan. After the game, Cattermole said it was the team’s aim to “keep the ball in front of us” – so they defended deep and narrow, limiting Chelsea’s chance to counter-attack and, most importantly, preventing the centre backs from being turned.
This was particularly important given that Sunderland’s central defenders – Wes Brown and John O’Shea – are literally ancient in footballing terms. (They have a combined age of 68. 68!) When Chelsea had the ball, the full backs tucked in, which made sense given that Santiago Vergini used to play at centre back himself, so he’s comfortable in that area.
Hazard and Willian have both enjoyed excellent seasons so far, but Sunderland were clearly aware of their tendencies to drift inside – where Cattermole the destructor was waiting to gobble them up. He made 5 tackles, 4 clearances and 3 interceptions in that area just in front of his box, and was by far the most influential player on the pitch.
As a result, the Blues resorted to shooting from long range, which, as Andy Townsend likes to remind us on an infuriatingly regular basis, is great news for the defending side. Only 2 of Chelsea’s 30 goals this season have come from outside the box – and given that Costa had just 2 touches inside the area on the weekend, it was maybe not that surprising that his team didn’t manage to find the back of the net.
Having said that, only 1.3% of Predikta players foresaw Sunderland taking a point home from the Stadium of Light. Unsurprisingly, not one player guessed the 0-0 final score spot on.
What does this mean for the Predikta league? Magda Williams secured top spot this week with 21 points. Peter Goodright was 2nd via the Predikta separator. Mark Scoular was 3rd with 19.
Well done to everyone else who featured in the top 10 this week. The season rankings will be up on our Facebook/Twitter pages as usual later in the week. Give us a like/follow if you haven’t already.