1. Teams & Tactics
We made several changes from the excellent Swansea win with Heitinga rightfully restored to the back line despite Jags ace display at the Liberty Stadium. Gueye also came in on the left for Pienaar and Fellaini returned to midfield with Neville switching to right back. Sunderland welcomed back influential duo Sessegnon and Cattermole whilst calamity ex Kopite Sotiris Kyrgiakos coming in for John O’Shea at the heart of the Mackems back four. Both sides were pretty much 4-4-1-1.
2. Blues Hit Ground Running
The Toffees were out the traps very quickly and immediately hurting our host’s zonal marking strategy twice with the usually military marked Cahill repeatedly finding space from corner situations. The opening goal wasn’t far away though as a slick move led by the commanding Fellaini witnessed the marauding Belgian drive into the space between Sunderland’s defensive and midfield lines before playing it wide left to Gueye who struck a superb zipped ball into the Mackems box which Jelavic dispatched with aplomb. The Croatian is looking a really great buy and he has the cool head and lethal finishing in the final third we haven’t really seen since the Yak’s first season.
The Blue’s midfield was bossing proceedings with Fellaini pressing and Gibson sitting back and moving the ball quickly out to the flanks when we regained possession. On the wings Gueye was superb and Osman was showing the hallmarks that make him such a top player; two great feet and toes twinkling past his marker repeatedly. The pint sized schemer was instrumental in the Blues creating almost double the openings of our hosts and hitting 8 shots on target to the Black Cats 1.
On the hour mark O’Neill switched things around with Kryiagkos given the hook for David Vaughan, with Bardsley moving inside and Gardner switching to fullback. Vaughan is actually a really good passer of the ball who hurt us at Bloomfield Road last season but few could predict just what an instant impact he would have on the game.
Fellaini was again pressing constantly and his aggression forced Sunderland backwards and culminated in Jelavic going one on one with Mignolet before pulling the ball across Sunderland’s goalmouth which Vaughan, with no blue shirt anywhere near him inexplicably contrived to take one touch before miscuing his second into his own net. O’Neill’s next change was to send on Campbell for Wayne Bridge and a move to 4-3-3 but with the Blues now in lockdown mode it would prove fruitless.
4. Blues close things out
With the 2 goals in the bag the Blues retreated and afforded superb protection to Howard, who was only forced into a single one on one situation when Campbell got clear. With the game as good as won the Blues basically did to Sunderland what our hosts did to us for the final 45mins at Goodison, sitting back and snuffing out the plethora of crosses which were increasingly coming from poor angles ideal for our defenders to gobble up. The Jag came on to sit between defence and midfield and nozzle the threat of Sessegnon which he did well in the short time he was on the pitch.
5. Final thought
Whereas in the game at Goodison we struggled to break down a well drilled outfit there was always going to be more space here as our hosts simply had to open up more on their own patch. Sunderland’s endeavour wasn’t in question but they ultimately lacked the subtlety to breakdown a side that is in their element closing out leads.
This was a richly deserved win for the Blues in a game we dominated from start to finish. Each member of the side won their individual battles and the result could have been a lot more convincing given the chances the Blues spurned. We now head to Wembley for a showdown with old foes Liverpool in a very winnable game and then face a potential final with either Spurs or Chelsea; 2 sides the Blues have beaten in the last few months. COYB!