Chelsea registered their 10th consecutive Premier League victory with a 1-0 win at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland on Wednesday. The Blues have now opened up a six-point lead over Liverpool at the top, with 16 games played. Cesc Fàbregas was the match-winner, scoring the only goal of the game 5 minutes before half-time.
Antonio Conte‘s men were never really in too much trouble, but had goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to thank for two vital saves in the second half to keep the three points intact. In the end, Chelsea registered their 9th clean sheet of the season, and their 13th win. They now have more league victories in this campaign than they did in the whole of the 2015/16 season, when they had won just 12 times. There are a whopping 25 points better off than they were at this stage last season.
Here are 3 major talking points from the game at the Stadium of Light:
1) Hazard injury calls for Fàbregas inclusion, Spaniard makes most of his opportunity
Cesc Fàbregas started only his second game for Chelsea since the end of September. The Spaniard is still getting used to the 3-4-3 system, but with Eden Hazard out with a knock, Antonio Conte decided he needed his creativity. The midfielder’s inclusion paid off in the final few minutes of the first half when he opened the scoring with his first league goal of the season. 5’6″ (167 cm) N’Golo Kante started the move by winning a header against 6’5″ (195 cm) Jan Kirchhoff, and Chelsea broke at lightning-quick speed.
Fàbregas played in Willian, who returned the pass for the Chelsea number 4 to finish brilliantly from the edge of the box. Jordan Pickford, Sunderland’s goalkeeper who is having an incredible season, couldn’t do anything about it. The Chelsea fans behind the goal were thrilled, seeing Fàbregas’ fantastic attitude and work rate pay off. The professionalism displayed by the former Arsenal man during this period spent on the bench has been exemplary.
2) Chelsea dominate second half, but can’t put the game to bed
The Blues had 66% of the possession during the match, but struggled to get the second and decisive goal to kill Sunderland off. Willian hit the bar with a deflected effort, while Diego Costa and Victor Moses both had shots directed straight at Pickford. At the other end of the pitch, Adnan Januzaj had a chance, but was denied by a fine Thibaut Courtois save.
In the end, it stayed 1-0 going into the final few minutes and set up a tense finish. David Moyes brought on Wahbi Khazri, while Conte introduced height and strength in the form of Nathaniel Chalobah and Branislav Ivanović.
3) Courtois pulls off a wonder save, keeps three points intact
Courtois was a spectator for most of the game, but just like any world-class goalkeeper, he came up with the goods when called upon. In the final minute of stoppage time, Patrick van Aanholt controlled brilliantly on the edge of the area before unleashing a left-footed volley. The Dutchman was wheeling away in celebration as he thought a goal against his former club was an absolute cert.
However, Courtois had other plans, and managed to somehow get his fingertips to the ball at full stretch. He needed to extend every sinew in his 6’6″ (198 cm) frame to get to the shot, and the Blues’ supporters chanted his name in all the time that remained.
— Chelsea GIFs (@ChelseaGIFs) December 15, 2016
This save ensured that it was 10 wins out of 10 for Chelsea, and made sure that the Blues fully capitalised on Arsenal’s loss to Everton on Tuesday. Conte’s men next play Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in the early game on Saturday, with a chance to further extend their lead at the summit.