Tinkering with a Chelsea line-up is a dangerous occupation and could cost a man his job. Just ask Claudio Ranieri.
But Carlo Ancelotti is far safer at Stamford Bridge than Ranieri could ever be and the former AC Milan coach changed his system and his players at Sunderland to record a second win of the week.
It did not start well for the Chelsea manager, who ditched the diamond and fell behind to Darren Bent’s second goal of the season after just 18 minutes. But a formidable
second-half fightback from the title hopefuls secured three valuable points against resurgent Sunderland.
Red and white machine: Darren Bent hails his second of the season
Michael Ballack, who returned to the Chelsea starting line-up, cancelled out Bent’s opener seven minutes into the second half before Frank Lampard stepped up to open his account for the season from the penalty spot on 61 minutes after George McCartney had tripped Didier Drogba.
Portugal maestro Deco, who had orchestrated the inventive Chelsea play behind lone striker Drogba, scored the third 20 minutes from time with a wonderful diagonal shot off the inside of keeper Marton Fulop’s post.
It was a cruel defeat on hardworking Sunderland, who appear on early evidence to have made great improvements under Steve Bruce, but the new Sunderland boss will have few complaints.
Ancelotti could only watch in frustration as his side wasted early chances and things got worse when Sunderland took the lead.
Sunderland Chelsea Lampard jumps over a tackle from Cana
Hard fought battle: Frank Lampard leas Lorik Cana's challenge
The build-up had an element of good fortune to it, with John Terry inadvertently providing the assist when the ball clipped off his heel as he challenged Kenwyne Jones at the edge of the area.
The ricochet fell neatly into the path of former Spurs striker Bent who took one touch to compose himself and a second to sidefoot the ball under Petr Cech’s body.
Chelsea proceeded to miss a host of chances before half-time but Ancelotti remained loyal and patient and was duly rewarded.
He said: ‘I am very happy. We played well throughout. Even when we fell behind, we were in total control. Sunderland were very strong in the first half but they tired and it was more difficultfor them to control our play.
‘I changed the team because I trust my players and I wanted to rest some. I know we have quality in the other players and I want to use them and keep them all fresh.’
Jumping for joy: Ballack celebrates after hitting Chelsea's second-half equaliser
Jumping for joy: Michael Ballack celebrates after hitting Chelsea's second-half equaliser
Salomon Kalou, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Deco and Michael Ballack wasted chances before the Germany captain, one of four who returned to the starting line-up,
cancelled out Bent’s opener after 52 minutes.
George McCartney’s trip on Drogba on the hour allowed Lampard to score the 132nd goal of his Chelsea career, making him the club’s fifth highest goalscorer.
Portugal maestro Deco scored the third 20 minutes from time with a wonderful diagonal shot off the inside of Marton Fulop’s post. He was so good he was applauded by the Sunderland fans when he was substituted near the end.
Bruce said: ‘Sometimes you have to admit you have been beaten by a very, very good team, and there is no shame in that.’
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Fulop 6; Bardsley 6, Ferdinand 6 Collins 7, McCartney 7; Henderson 6, Cana 6, Cattermole 7 (Leadbitter 62min, 5), Richardson 6 (Reid 84); Bent 7, Jones 7 (Campbell 62, 5). Booked: Richardson.
CHELSEA (4-1-2-2-1): Cech 6; Bosingwa 6, Ivanovic 6, Terry 7, A Cole 5; Essien 6; Ballack 6, Lampard 7; Kalou 6 (Malouda 76), Deco 8; Drogba 6 (Sturridge 84).
Booked: Ivanovic, Drogba, Kalou.
Man of the match: Deco.
Referee: Steve Bennett.