Chelsea moved six points clear at the top of the Premier League as Cesc Fabregas’ first-half goal beat a stubborn Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Fabregas steered into the far corner from the edge of the box as the Blues recorded a 10th consecutive league victory.
Sunderland keeper Jordan Pickford saved from former Black Cat Marcos Alonso and Willian to prevent Chelsea from winning by a bigger margin.
The hosts, who had set up to try to nullify their opponent’s attacking strength, had few chances although they could have snatched a point in injury time but Thibaut Courtois superbly denied Patrick van Aanholt.
It was a hard-fought and important win for Chelsea after Arsenal slipped up against Everton on Tuesday and means Antonio Conte’s side will be top of the table at Christmas.
- Relive Sunderland’s game with Chelsea
- Reaction from all of Wednesday’s Premier League games
- Bradley Lowery: Boy with cancer is Sunderland mascot
- Conte: My players deserve this
Can Chelsea cope without key players?
A key element of Chelsea’s run of recent victories has been consistency with Conte having named an unchanged side in eight of the nine games prior to the trip to Sunderland.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp had recently suggested that Chelsea’s good run could falter when either Eden Hazard or Diego Costa picked up an injury, and Wednesday’s game provided an opportunity to see whether that would be the case.
Hazard did not travel after picking up a knock in Chelsea’s 1-0 win over West Brom at the weekend, so he was replaced by Willian. Conte also took the opportunity to rest Nemanja Matic as Fabregas made his first start since 3 December.
Initially, Chelsea appeared to miss Hazard’s creativity as they struggled to find a way to break down a packed Sunderland defence, but Fabregas highlighted the Blues’ strength in depth.
As Sunderland’s seven-man defence frustrated the visitors, Fabregas somehow managed to find the gap to sneak a shot into the far corner and ultimately give Chelsea victory.
Conte calls for improvement
Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in five of their previous seven games but their inability to put the game out of Sunderland’s reach was a cause for concern for Conte.
For the third time in four games, they won by a single goal margin and Conte is now keen to see his side improve their finishing.
“When you have the possibility to kill the game you must kill the game,” he said. “We had this possibility but we didn’t and at the end Courtois made a good save. I hope in the future we can improve.”
Positives for Black Cats
Three points for Sunderland would have moved them off the bottom of the table but against the league’s in-form side it was always going to be a tough ask.
While chances of their own were in short supply, the hosts showed plenty of spirit and determination and Diego Costa, the joint-top scorer in the Premier League, was kept largely quiet by a well-organised and disciplined defence.
On the occasions Chelsea did manage to break through the Sunderland back line, Pickford once again highlighted why he is one of the most exciting young English goalkeepers around.
There is still a long way to go, but three wins from their six previous games, as well as an encouraging display against the league leaders, suggests they have every chance of clawing their way to safety.
Man of the match – Jordan Pickford
‘We deserved more than that’
Sunderland boss David Moyes: “Don’t say commiserations, it sounds bad, they deserve more than that. We don’t have the quality of Chelsea but we did a really good job.
“I thought we would get a goal, but Courtois made two great saves, and it would have been a really good point.”
Top at Christmas, title winners? The stats
- Six of the past seven teams to top the Premier League at Christmas have gone on to win the title.
- Chelsea have become the 10th side to win 10-plus Premier League games in a row, with it being the third occasion the Blues have done it [more than any other side].
- Antonio Conte is only the second manager in Premier League history to win 13 of his opening 16 games in the competition [after John Gregory at Aston Villa in 1998].
- The Black Cats have lost 10 Premier League games at the Stadium of Light against Chelsea, more than they have against any other side at the ground.
- Cesc Fabregas has scored more goals at the Stadium of Light (four) than he has at any other away ground in the Premier League.
- Chelsea have gone on to win the league title on each of the four previous occasions they have been top of the league at Christmas (2014-15, 2009-10, 2005-06 & 2004-05).
Both sides do not have long to wait for their next game as Sunderland welcome Watford to the Stadium of Light (15:00 GMT) on Saturday while Chelsea return to London to visit Crystal Palace on the same day (12:30).
- 16O’SheaBooked at 45mins
- 2JonesSubstituted forLoveat 59′minutes
- 27KirchhoffSubstituted forLarssonat 57′minutes
- 3van Aanholt
- 18DefoeBooked at 43mins
- 9BoriniBooked at 72minsSubstituted forKhazriat 82′minutes
- 30David Luiz
- 15MosesBooked at 90minsSubstituted forIvanovicat 90+3′minutes
- 22WillianSubstituted forChalobahat 89′minutes
- 19Diego Costa
- 11PedroBooked at 56minsSubstituted forMaticat 76′minutes
- Neil Swarbrick
- Shots on Target
Match ends, Sunderland 0, Chelsea 1.
Second Half ends, Sunderland 0, Chelsea 1.
Corner, Sunderland. Conceded by Thibaut Courtois.
Attempt saved. Patrick van Aanholt (Sunderland) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Jermain Defoe.
Substitution, Chelsea. Branislav Ivanovic replaces Victor Moses.
Victor Moses (Chelsea) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Victor Moses (Chelsea).
Patrick van Aanholt (Sunderland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt saved. Jason Denayer (Sunderland) header from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Patrick van Aanholt with a cross.
Corner, Sunderland. Conceded by César Azpilicueta.
Substitution, Chelsea. Nathaniel Chalobah replaces Willian.
Attempt missed. Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Diego Costa with a through ball.
Attempt saved. Willian (Chelsea) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Cesc Fàbregas.
Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Wahbi Khazri (Sunderland).
Substitution, Sunderland. Wahbi Khazri replaces Fabio Borini.
Foul by David Luiz (Chelsea).
Fabio Borini (Sunderland) wins a free kick on the left wing.
N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Adnan Januzaj (Sunderland).
Substitution, Chelsea. Nemanja Matic replaces Pedro.
Attempt missed. Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Marcos Alonso.
Gary Cahill (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Fabio Borini (Sunderland).
Attempt blocked. Pedro (Chelsea) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt missed. Jermain Defoe (Sunderland) right footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Papy Djilobodji with a cross.
Fabio Borini (Sunderland) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Attempt missed. Pedro (Chelsea) right footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Cesc Fàbregas.
Corner, Sunderland. Conceded by Gary Cahill.
Attempt saved. N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
César Azpilicueta (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Adnan Januzaj (Sunderland).
Attempt blocked. Fabio Borini (Sunderland) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Patrick van Aanholt.
Hand ball by Pedro (Chelsea).
Victor Moses (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Lamine Koné (Sunderland).
Foul by Willian (Chelsea).
Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt missed. Willian (Chelsea) right footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by David Luiz.
Attempt missed. Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right.