Saturday, January 16, 2010
Sorry Sunderland collapse at the Bridge
This embarrassing mismatch at Stamford Bridge was either a statement of intent from potential Premier League champions or a performance so awful that words will struggle to describe it.
• Chelsea 7-2 Sunderland
There are not many times when it is hard to offer a definitive assessment on a match that was as confusing as it was goal laden, yet a depleted Sunderland side have to take a bulk of the blame for a spectacular result that was down to their astonishing incompetence as much as it was due to Chelsea's brilliance.
It seems a little churlish to question the validity of a Blues performance that could have produced as many as 15 goals, but for a Premier League side to hoist the white flag with the eagerness Sunderland displayed on a damp West London afternoon leaves you wondering whether they ever genuinely believed they could take anything from this game.
Anton Ferdinand, Michael Turner and Andy Reid were among their star names on the sidelines for this game and as manager Steve Bruce was quick to accept after this resounding battering, the men he asked to plug the gaps were simply not up to the job.
"It's very difficult to talk about a game when you have been absolutely hammered like that, but the truth is we simply couldn't cope," conceded Bruce. "Chelsea were too good for us all over the pitch and defensively, the only word that describes our performance was inept. We had eight people missing and the players we had to put out simply were not good enough.
"I am not looking for excuses because I don't need to be told how bad we were, but we need our big players fit to have a chance against a team like Chelsea. We hope four or five of those missing will be back for next week because it has been a struggle over the last six week. If they do return quickly, it will give us a lift."
At first glance, it would have been easy to lambast this Sunderland performance as that of a side who are in the midst of a terminal slide, but Bruce's polite explanation for their demise served to shed a little light on their hapless effort.
However, if Sunderland's reserves are as a woeful as this, he may be tempted to dip into the transfer market this month as his team's reluctance to compete with Chelsea was evident from the first whistle in this game. Sitting back and inviting gifted opponents every opportunity to pile on the pressure, it took only eight minutes for the visitors to crack as Nicolas Anelka set the tone for the day with the opening goal.
They were three behind before the first quarter of this game had been played and the nature of Chelsea's goals did little to placate the mood of an increasingly irate Bruce on the touchline. The second goal came after Sunderland invited Florent Malouda to shoot at goal, while the third saw Ashley Cole given time and space in the box before he was allowed to finish. It was all too easy.
Marking opponents in the box was not a plan Sunderland opted to employ for this game, so Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack added to their misery and while the final scoreline left a grim total of seven against their name, the truth is Sunderland were lucky to escape with such a modest humbling.
Anelka and Lampard may have got their name on the score sheet again before the end, but Joe Cole and several other Chelsea stars spurned further chances to humiliate their opponents before referee Chris Foy put them out of their misery. Sunderland goals from Bolo Zenden and Darren Bent were merely hollow consolations.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti had every right to play up his side's efforts as he admitted this may have been the first time one of his teams had smashed seven goals in one game. "I don't remember this many goals from one of my teams before," said the Italian whose English is improving at a pace.
"I believe this is our best performance of the season on a day when everyone said it would be a big test for us as we had to cope without our African players. However, this display does not surprise me as I always said this squad was good enough and they showed that today. It was an important day to send out a message that we can cope without Essien and Drogba, but I knew this would not be a problem."
Ancelotti reserved special praise for Anelka, who filled the void left by the absent Dider Drogba with a classy display that should have ended with him collected a hat-trick. Only a fine point blank save from under-fire Sunderland keeper Marton Fullop denied him the match day he craved.
"Nicolas did very well for us again and he proved he is a top striker," stated Ancelotti. "We are lucky to have him in our squad. Maybe the best goal was Ashley's Cole as there was fantastic movement and great skill in the build up and overall, this was a comfortable day."
It said much about the scale of Chelsea's domination that Ancelotti had the luxury of taking off skipper John Terry and Ashley Cole at half time, with the 4-0 interval score line at the break giving the Italian ample opportunity to exercise some caution. "JT and Ashley are fine, but I felt it was good to give them a break and they will be fine for our next game," added the Blues boss.
Chelsea won't have many more comfortable days than this all season, but they should not allow seven-goal euphoria to overcome them after seeing off opponents whose incompetence was complete. We knew the gifted title favourites were masters of dismantling a rival who is asking to be beaten and this was another example of their merciless quality.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Nicolas Anelka
Sunderland may have made it easy for the French striker, but he was a constant threat leading the Chelsea line. He must dream of comfortable mismatches like this.
BRIDGE HUMOUR: Chelsea fans broke out en-mass to sing 'Rafa Benitez, we want you to stay' mid-way through first half. It was a comical moment directed at the beleaguered Liverpool boss on a day when their own team turned on the style.
CHELSEA VERDICT: Even though the title favourites strolled through this game, they should not get carried away by a thumping defeat of a rival that was third rate at best.
SUNDERLAND VERDICT: Steve Bruce could not have been more accurate when he suggested this was an 'inept' display from his second string team. He can only hope his first choice stars do better on their return.