Sunderland - Chelsea Preview: Blues face stern test against relegation candidates

Chelsea face a team fighting for Premier League survival on Saturday with just three games to go.

Sunderland - Chelsea Preview: Blues face stern test against relegation candidates
Image credit: VAVEL

Chelsea travel to the Stadium of Light on Saturday as they face a stern test against a Sunderland side desperately battling relegation.

With three games left, Sunderland are 18th in the league, just a point from moving above their rivals Newcastle and into safety. Meanwhile, Chelsea are ninth and are trying to end the season positively before welcoming their new manager in the summer.

With Chelsea having the upper hand in quality while Sunderland still have survival to fight for, it should make for an enticing matchup on Saturday afternoon.

Team news

Sunderland: Sam Allardyce's men head into Saturday with just one injury. Fullback Billy Jones is out with a hip injury and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

The Black Cats were saved by a last minute penalty from Jermain Defoe last week, gaining a vital point in the fight for survival. This weekend's meeting with Chelsea will be their toughest test for the rest of the season and will need to play out of their skin, especially with Newcastle and Norwich also fighting for survival.

Projected XI: Mannone; Yedlin, Kaboul, Kirchhoff, Van Aanholt; Cattermole, M'Vila, Rodwell; Khazri, Defoe, Borini. 

Chelsea: The Blues ended Tottenham's title bid on Monday night to delight their fans but have nothing to play for in the final three games, except to impress incoming boss Antonio Conte.

Just two players will be unavailable for Chelsea on Saturday, with Loic Remy still sidelined with a groin injury and Kurt Zouma remaining out until August as he recovers from his ACL tear. Eden Hazard's recent return to form will be a positive for Chelsea going forward in the final few weeks and into next season.

Projected XI: Courtois; Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Hazard, Willian, Pedro; Diego Costa.

Cahill celebrates his goal on Monday night. | Image source: Getty Images
Cahill celebrates his goal on Monday night. | Image source: Getty Images

Background

The Blues sit in ninth place and are on course for their worst finish since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2004. 

A draw on Saturday, and a Newcastle loss, would see Sunderland move above rivals Newcastle and into 17th place.

The last two fixtures between the two sides both ended with Chelsea winning 3-1, including this season's meeting at Stamford Bridge.

Sunderland have won two of their last five games against Chelsea, also drawing once.

Former Blue Patrick Van Aanholt will be expected to line up against his former side.

Players to watch

Sunderland - Jermain Defoe: The 33-year-old striker has 14 goals in the league this season and is one of the main reasons why Sunderland are still fighting to stay in the top flight. His pace and movement should cause the Chelsea defence problems and he'll need to take advantage of any chance he gets.

Chelsea - Eden Hazard: The 2015 Player of the Year has endured a tough season but has recently come into form, scoring three goals in his last two games. The Belgian superstar looked lively on Monday against Tottenham and will likely cause plenty of problems for Sunderland as he looks back to his best.