Cesc Fabregas made his case for a future at Chelsea as he inspired the Blues to a 1-0 win over Sunderland.
Antonio Conte’s side claimed their 10th league win in a row despite struggling to break down a sturdy but unambitious Sunderland side, with the invention of Fabregas, who had been warned by his manager that his future beyond January was in doubt, at the heart of Chelsea’s few quality moments.
David Moyes set his stall out before kick-off as he named seven defenders in a 3-4-3 formation that, whilst theoretically matching Chelsea’s system, bore next to nothing in common with Conte’s tactical approach.
The hosts sat deep with Jason Denayer and Jan Kirchoff rarely moving from their positions in front of the backline. All too often it was too firm a wall for Chelsea to penetrate, though Adnan Januzaj’s tactical indiscipline all too often gave space for an overlapping Marcos Alonso.
His cross gave Diego Costa the only half chance of the first 40 minutes but the league’s top scorer was unable to keep a difficult first-time volley on target.
Jordan Pickford was continuing his fine run of form in the Sunderland goal, saving smartly from an offside Pedro, and it seemed the Sunderland rearguard was not to be breached until Fabregas drove forward with purpose.
Combining smartly with Willian he slotted home from the edge of the box to cool Chelsea nerves whilst reminding Conte what he can bring to the Blues midfield.
Chelsea could have had a second before the break after Costa was brought down chasing a fine pass from Fabregas but Willian smacked the resulting free-kick against the bar. The Brazilian repeated the trick early in the second period, sprinting past Lamine Kone but seeing his powerful effort deflecting off former team-mate Papy Djilobodji and onto the bar.
Desperate for at least a point, the league’s bottom side came out with renewed intent after the interval but in truth their new found attacking endeavour did little more than open up space for Diego Costa and company, who began seeing more chances around the Sunderland box.
Thibaut Courtois, though, had to be live to a rare Sunderland burst forward that culminated in Januzaj driving low at his bottom corner. The Chelsea goalkeeper stuck out a leg to deflect the effort away.
Eighty minutes of mostly excellent defending had taken their toll on Sunderland though, who seemed unable to rouse themselves for a late siege of the Chelsea goal as the visitors secured a close victory in relative comfort.