Thursday, 15 December 2016

Touch of class from Cesc and Willian sees Chelsea past Sunderland

Touch of class from Cesc and Willian sees Chelsea past Sunderland
The duo had not started together in the league since defeat to Arsenal nearly three months ago but proved they were up to running the show in the absence of Eden Hazard
With no European commitments this is proving to be a season with as few rotations as possible for Antonio Conte and Chelsea but every now and again even he has to make exceptions.
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Eden Hazard was not fit enough to play against Sunderland due to a slight knee injury while Nemanja Matic was rotated out of the team with one eye on a busy festive period ahead.
It meant that for the first time since the 3-0 drubbing at Arsenal – the inadvertent catalyst behind Chelsea’s Premier League resurgence – Cesc Fabregas and Willian were in the same Premier League starting line-up. Each was outstanding in the absences of the preferred men for their positions.
Cesc and Willian combined for Chelsea’s first-half opener in great style – bringing a degree of subtlety to a hard-running side that sometimes lacks for genuine playmakers in the starting XI - Hazard aside.
Willian took a pass from Cesc at the edge of the area and aimed a soft one back to his midfield colleague who passed the ball into the corner of Jordan Pickford’s net. There will be as few surprises as possible in Conte’s line-ups for the rest of the campaign ahead but he will have been given plenty of food for thought by two men long kicking their heels on the sidelines.
The autumn international break and saddening personal circumstances meant that Willian was unlucky to lose his place in the Chelsea line-up initially but – equally- was helpless to win it back as the team embarked on a sensational winning run.
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He’s picked his moments to impress though – in the away win at Manchester City in particular – and here at the Stadium of Light in place of Hazard.

Fabregas was a different story. When Pep Guardiola dropped Sergio Aguero from the City team it was to jolt the Argentine into altering his style of football – leading the defensive effort from the front and chasing a bit harder. It worked.
Conte – meanwhile – did not appear to want Fabregas back in the team once he cast him out. There was even talk of a January move to Serie A or the Turkish Super Lig. Nonetheless the World Cup winner has found his way back into the team and if not a guaranteed starter – yet – then he is again proving himself as a capable deputy. And now with Oscar departing for Chinese riches, he stands only to benefit from that too.
He ran the show at City, gave the assist for Diego Costa against WBA and scored here with a confidence-boosting finish at the right time.
"Cesc is a good player for us," said Conte. "In the midfield I have four midfielders and it is important for me to evaluate the form of the players; some games you need players who are more physical and some games more technical. It is important that Cesc had a good game."
It’s not enough to say that Chelsea’s methods have been worked out but it’s true that Tottenham Hotspur, City and West Brom have given Conte and his team more to think about in the Premier League in recent weeks.
Teams are identifying vulnerabilities in the Chelsea ranks – from dragging their centre backs out of position to closing down Matic early – and Sunderland had their own way of coping too. David Moyes opted to match up Chelsea’s 3-4-3 system man for man with John O’Shea, ex-Blue Papy Djilobodji and Lamine Kone taking it in turns to come out and mark Chelsea’s front three.
It meant that Marcos Alonso was getting plenty of the ball on the left - with only Adnan Januzaj for competition - but he couldn’t locate anyone in a blue shirt for a cross. Instead it was a bit of magic which unlocked the door. Chelsea were on the back foot for the closing stages, relying on a magical Thibaut Courtois save to maintain the clean sheet, in what could have turned into a very tricky night indeed.
"I prefer my players not to look at the table and to focus on the next game in three days," said Conte. "We must prepare very well to have a good Christmas."
Chelsea – top of the league and six points clear – will reflect on a stunning 10-match winning run. There is still momentum and determination in their play and – when needed – a touch of class.
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