Chelsea’s title hopes were dealt a devastating blow on Saturday. Relegation threatened Sunderland snatched a rare three points from the Blues at Stamford Bridge. Sunderland scored a late goal and escaped with a 2-1 win. The Bridge has been a fortress for Chelsea all season, and Saturday’s match was their first loss there during the 2013-2014 campaign.
Jose Mourinho was forced to play an unfamiliar squad as he had one eye looking towards the monumental clash against Atletico Madrid in midweek. The most disturbing move was resting Petr Cech. Cech was suffering from a virus. The Czech goalkeeper was given a rare rest as veteran Mark Schwarzer started. That move may have lost Chelsea the chance to win the Premier League.
The defense consisted of Mourinho’s favorite lineup with Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta all getting the start. Chelsea’s defense, best in the league, has saved the Blues all season, but a costly mistake at the end lost the match for them.
Employing his typical 4-2-3-1, Mourinho made numerous changes in the midfield. Ramires came back into the lineup after a suspension, and Nemanja Matic joined the Brazilian as Frank Lampard was rested. Mohamed Salah joined Oscar and Willian in the attacking three with Eden Hazard still recovering from a leg injury. Samuel Eto’o, who had scored all eleven of his goals this season at home, led the line.
Mourinho’s decision to keep the in form Demba Ba on the bench seemed to have paid off. Eto’o brilliantly guided home Willian’s corner in the 12th minute to hand the Blues an early lead. The lead lasted only five minutes though. Sunderland put on the pressure and were rewarded with a corner kick of their own.
The Blues expected the kick to come into the box, but it found Marcos Alonso outside the eighteen. Alonso whipped in a ferocious shot that Schwarzer fumbled into the path of Connor Wickham. Wickham easily tapped in the equalizer.
Chelsea has struggled all year against bottom tier teams in tied situations. The opposition often parks the bus in front of the goal and forces Chelsea to take difficult shots. This was Sunderland’s plan as well, and the Blues were clearly frustrated.
Ramires may face a five match suspension after hitting Sebastian Larsson in the face with his hand. Ramires had earlier been denied a goal from the same player as he was roughly pushed from behind while attempting to head in towards an empty net.
The Blues simply couldn’t find that second goal to separate themselves from their competition. Jozy Altidore, an American striker, played a huge role in the winner for Sunderland. He was racing down the right sideline, forcing Azpilicueta to slip, and he promptly cut down the American. Mike Dean, the referee, wasted no time in awarding the visitors a penalty in the 82nd minute.
Fabio Borini, a former Blue, sent in a tame shot into the goal past Schwarzer. The Australian international had guessed the wrong way and could only look on in dismay as his team lost the lead.
The Chelsea faithful were shocked, and the Blues were unable to find an answer. They chased and chased, but the final result saw Chelsea remain second in the league. Mourinho suffered his first loss at Stamford Bridge in 78 matches.
Liverpool faces Norwich City tomorrow. The Reds must drop points to another team if Chelsea has any chance to win the Premier League. Chelsea travel to Madrid to play the first leg of their Champions League semifinal tie against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
Mourinho and company are obviously disappointed from this result, but they must focus completely on securing a solid result in Madrid. A chance at Champions League glory will certainly help the squad stay motivated. It would be easy to count out the Blues, but time and time again they have proven everyone wrong. It may take a miracle, but the Blues could still come out of this season with the Champions League and Premier League Double.