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Kingmakers Chelsea turn attention to lowly Sunderland

Sunderland (United Kingdom) (AFP) – After ending Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League title challenge on Monday, Chelsea can have a major influence on events at the other end of the table when they visit Sunderland on Saturday.

There was no doubting the motivation of Guus Hiddink’s side in Monday’s 2-2 draw against Tottenham, when they were clearly driven to prevent their London rivals becoming champions and in the process gift-wrapped the title for Leicester City.

The explosive clash twice spilled over into mass confrontations between the two teams and both clubs were subsequently charged by the Football Association for failing to control their players.   

Now Newcastle United and Norwich City –- Sunderland’s rivals in the fight to avoid relegation –- will hope Chelsea maintain that level of desire when they visit the Stadium of Light.

Chelsea have only pride to play for after a disastrous title defence and underwhelming Champions League campaign.

But with Antonio Conte waiting in the wings to take charge after he has taken Italy to Euro 2016, a number of players will be concerned they need to make an impression on the incoming coach before the transfer window opens.   

Oscar has already paid the price for his failure to secure more regular playing time by being omitted from Brazil’s squad for this year’s Copa America, although Willian, one of the few at Stamford Bridge to impress this season, has been selected.

Conte will also have noted Eden Hazard’s belated return to something approaching his best, with the Belgium midfielder scoring his first league goals of the season against Bournemouth and then immediately adding another when he secured the draw that denied Spurs.  

– Complicated –

Hazard admits he has endured a troubled season but believes the intensity of the Tottenham game has helped him return to form.   

“I like matches like that when they’re very hard and there is so much rivalry between the two teams. It allows me to find my best form. It’s football at its best,” he said.

“Recently I have rediscovered the pleasure to play. When you’re injured it’s hard to get that pleasure back. I played 45 minutes and I gave my maximum.

“It’s been a complicated season for Chelsea and for me. It hasn’t been like last season but we have three matches left and we want to finish well by winning all three.”   

Chelsea’s failure to mount another title challenge this season has stunned Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce. 

“It’s the biggest surprise apart from Leicester winning the league,” he said. 

“You would not have said Leicester would sustain what they were doing and you wouldn’t have said Chelsea would keep going as they were. 

“Chelsea have now pulled away from the bottom, but it has been a poor season by their standards. That doesn’t mean it will be easy for us though, especially when you see Eden Hazard’s performance on Monday.” 

A full house is guaranteed for a game when all the pressure will be on third-bottom Sunderland, who are one point from safety with three games left, but Allardyce is certain his players will be able to handle the occasion. 

He certainly expects them to cope much better than Tottenham did on Monday when their draw against Chelsea cost them any chance of the title.

“You can see what pressure does. The first example is of Spurs losing control under that pressure. Perhaps it is because they are such a young team,” Allardyce said.

“Maybe that’s why they lost the plot because you don’t normally see a Tottenham team going around hacking a team like they did. 

“That’s the last thing we want to see in our last three games, we want to see controlled passion, desire, and commitment, but we don’t want to see us lose control. 

“We have to put everything into trying to beat a strong Chelsea side.”

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