Sunderland face a tough test under Martin O'Neill when they travel to Stamford Bridge to face a Chelsea side striving to get back into the title race. The Blues are currently fourth in the Premier League standings and 11 points adrift of leaders Manchester City, while they are also eight behind Manchester United and Tottenham. The initial focus for Andre Villas-Boas' side may be on putting distance between themselves and Arsenal and Liverpool in the battle for a UEFA Champions League spot, but the manager has not given up hope of challenging for top spot just yet. Following a difficult festive period, Chelsea claimed a battling 2-1 victory over Wolves at the start of 2012 and then beat Portsmouth 4-0 in the third round of the FA Cup last week.
Florent Malouda is doubtful for Chelsea's Barclays Premier League game against Sunderland. The winger picked up a knock in Sunday's FA Cup win over Portsmouth and failed to train on Wednesday or Thursday. Daniel Sturridge and John Terry have both been passed fit but the game comes a week too soon for Michael Essien (knee), Branislav Ivanovic and John Obi Mikel (both hamstring), while Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are on African Nations Cup duty.
Nicklas Bendtner could return to the Sunderland squad at the weekend. The Denmark international missed the FA Cup third-round victory over Peterborough because of a knee injury, but is expected to be available for the game at Stamford Bridge. If so, he will be joined in the squad by fellow frontman Fraizer Campbell, who is available for the first time since August 2010 after recovering from a second serious knee problem, but Jack Colback (ankle), Wes Brown (groin) and Titus Bramble (calf/Achilles) remain on the casualty list.
Facts and stats
Chelsea have kept just one clean sheet in their last 12 Premier League home games
Chelsea have lost just one of their last eight Premier League games (W4 D3 L1)
However, Chelsea have won two of their last six Premier League games at Stamford Bridge W2 D1 L3)
Chelsea are the only team who have not conceded a goal from a corner situation this season
Chelsea have won 13 of the last 14 Premier League meetings against Sunderland (W13 L1)
There have been five 90th minute or later goals in the last six Premier League meetings between Chelsea and Sunderland
Sunderland have earned more points (13) since Martin O’Neill took over in six Premier League games than they managed in the 14 games before he took over this campaign (11)
Martin O’Neill has won just three Premier League games as a manager against Chelsea (W3 D6 L7)
There have been 35 goals netted across the last seven meetings between Chelsea and Sunderland, with at least three goals in each of those games
Referee Phil Dowd has awarded more penalties than any other referee this season (7)