Sunderland v Chelsea – 15:00
– A solitary Craig Gardner goal will have provided scant consolation for Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland, on a day when they created plenty of chances but just couldn’t find their killer instinct in front of goal. The 2-1 defeat now leaves them precariously placed just above the drop zone, something the players will be keen to change this weekend.
– James McLean is often vaunted for his skill moving forward but he’s not afraid to track back and help out at the other end of the park. He’s Sunderland’s most dominant defender this season, winning 34 challenges, giving him a 59% success rate according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.
– Craig Gardner on the other hand has endured a mixed bag this season when it comes to his defensive efforts. Whilst he has lost out in 30 challenges, he’s also made 14 clearances and 58 interceptions, making a vital component of Martin O’Neill’s defence.
– Adam Johnson’s creativity has been of huge value to Sunderland since his arrival from Man City. He’s produced an excellent return of 38 crosses and 10 dribbles this season.
– John O’Shea is quietly proving himself to have been a solid acquisition for Sunderland, racking up 91 interceptions and 24 clearances for the Black Cats this season.
– Although Stephane Sessegnon has apparently been unable to replicate his form from last season in this campaign, he’s lost none of his winger’s swagger in the process. His 18 dribbles mean he has taken the fight to the opposition ten times more than his next Sunderland team mate.
– Yet more pressure was heaped on interim manager Rafael Benitez as Chelsea fell to another defeat, this time to West Ham at Upton Park. A beautifully taken goal from the influential Juan Mata was not enough to help the Blues take anything away from the game and one can imagine the fans will be pressing even harder for Benitez’s dismissal should they fail to win this weekend against Sunderland.
– Mata proved again why he’s so highly valued at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, not just for his talent on the ball, but for his willingness to put in a shift at the heart of the Chelsea midfield. The Spanish wizard was Chelsea’s hardest worker against West Ham, running for 6.73 miles, a feat he has now achieved three times this season according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.
– Fernando Torres has found himself as one of the key scapegoats for Chelsea’s poor lack of recent form, yet his statistics tell a different story. The Spanish front man has a 74% shooting accuracy rate from his 27 attempts on goal, a percentage only bettered by Romelu Lukaku when you take into account players who have had 20 shots or more.
– Chelsea may have been suffering a dip in form in recent weeks but one man they can always seem to turn to when the heat is on is Petr Cech. He was certainly tested last time out against West Ham though, his 14 saves was the busiest any keeper has been in a league match this season.
– Branislav Ivanovic’s strength on the ball can often mask the Serbian defender’s surprising turn of pace. He showcased all of it against West Ham though, the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index clocking him at an impressive 20.24mph.
– Ashley Cole seems to keen on showing the Chelsea brass what they would be missing should they let him leave in the summer when his contract expires. The 32 year old still has a very impressive defensive success rate of 79% from 28 challenges.