Sunderland 1 Chelsea 3: Lessons as Torres fires the Blues to victory
Sunderland 1 Chelsea 3: What lessons did we learn as Fernando Torres scored twice in Blues win at the Stadium of Light?
Torres finding form under Benítez
Rafael Benítez’s appointment as Roberto Di Matteo’s replacement inevitably sparked talk of the Spaniard rekindling Fernando Torres’ best form. It was Benítez who snapped up the striker in a £22m deal from Atletico Madrid in 2007, and the World Cup winner went on to score an impressive 56 goals in 79 appearances with Benítez at the Liverpool helm. The Chelsea forward has managed a paltry 20 goals since completing a £50m switch to Stamford Bridge but there are signs Torres is starting to find some resemblance of form. He ended a barren spell – which lasted 562 minutes – with a brace in the Champions League in a 6-1 win against Nordsjaelland on Wednesday and continued his goal-scoring run at the Stadium of Light. Torres thrived on early balls fed through by Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard at Liverpool but Chelsea have struggled to create chances for the Spaniard. Benítez will implement his methods and systems which worked well at the Reds, and Torres’ first-half strike echoed of his past goals. Winning the ball in midfield, Torres fed Eden Hazard, with the Belgian running to the byline before crossing into the area where the Chelsea striker had continued his run and prodded his finish past Simon Mignolet. In a sign of his growing confidence, Torres overruled David Luiz and converted a penalty on the stroke of half-time – he had previously shirked the responsibility earlier in his Chelsea career. Torres could have had a hat-trick but for the crossbar, with Juan Mata netting the rebound to grab the Blues’ third.
Rose a rare beacon of hope for Sunderland
Sunderland slipped deeper into a relegation scrap after succumbing to a third defeat in four Premier League matches, dropping to 18th spot. Martin O’Neill’s men lack self-belief and their talisman Steven Fletcher, who is currently sidelined with an ankle injury. The Scotland international has scored almost half of the Black Cats’ goals this term and Connor Wickham was drafted in to lead the front-line. Unsurprisingly, Sunderland struggled to create against a well-drilled Chelsea defence steadily improving under Benitez. However, Danny Rose did offer an outlet from left-back, with his buccaneering runs exploiting the space left by Oscar, who frequently drifted from out wide into a more central position. The England Under-21 international, who is on a season-long loan at the Stadium of Light, has quick feet and trickery to outwit opponents, while also showing excellent decision-making – unlike his team-mate Sebastian Larsson who rashly went to ground and fouled Ramires for the 45th-minute penalty. Despite trailing Chelsea 3-0, Rose continued to press forward in search of a consolation for the Black Cats. A wonderful cross-field pass capped an eye-catching individual performance and O’Neill will need to get his other players matching Rose’s industry if Sunderland are to move clear of the relegation zone.
Johnson key to survival bid
Sunderland’s struggles in front of goal have been well-documented this term, with Fletcher
netting six of their 13 Premier League goals. O’Neill has spoken of the need for more of his squad to chip in with goals and reduce the responsibility on Fletcher’s shoulders. With the striker absent, Johnson was Sunderland’s sole creative force with Wickham struggling to have any effect on the game. The England international regularly swapped wings and tested both Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic who were tasked with keeping the former Middlesbrough star quiet. Johnson scored 15 goals in 97 appearances for Manchester City before completing a summer switch to the Stadium of Light. He netted in a 2-1 defeat by Everton in November and scored the second of his Sunderland career with a wonderful curling shot which left Petr Cech motionless. It offered O’Neill’s side hope of mounting a comeback with 24 minutes remaining and it was the winger who came closest to further reducing the deficit – Johnson’s powerful free-kick drew a full-stretch save from Cech. Next up for the former Citizens star is a trip to Manchester United.
Lampard makes a welcome return
Oriel Romelu’s injury in the first half prompted Benítez to introduce Oscar ahead of Frank Lampard but the 34-year-old did finally make his return in the 78th minute. The England veteran has not featured since damaging his calf seven weeks ago in a 2-1 loss at Shakthar Donetsk. During his spell on the sidelines, Di Matteo has departed and Benitez subsequently appointed, while Chelsea’s Premier League title tilt is hanging by a thread following a disastrous run of results. With John Terry also missing during that period due to a suspension and knee problem, Lampard’s comeback will be a great relief to Benitez, who desperately needs his old guard back ahead of a demanding set of fixtures. Chelsea begin their Fifa Club World Cup campaign in Japan next week and Bneitez, who is famed for his rotation policy, will be relieved to have fresh legs to rotate John Obi Mikel, Ramires and Romelu.