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Fernando Torres handed Rafael Benitez a first Barclays Premier League victory as Chelsea manager as he ended his personal drought in style at Sunderland.
The Spaniard capped a powerful start for the Blues by firing them into an 11th-minute lead - scoring his first league goal since October 6 - and he made it 2-0 in first-half stoppage time by converting a penalty awarded for Sebastian Larsson's trip on Ramires.
Only the woodwork prevented him from completing a hat-trick inside 49 minutes, but Juan Mata rifled in the loose ball to end the game as a contest. Sunderland responded and England international Adam Johnson beat Petr Cech with a 66th-minute shot, with Craig Gardner hitting the bar at the death.
Chelsea will turn their attention to Japan and the FIFA Club World Cup, while Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill will attempt to take the positives from a difficult afternoon on Wearside.
The visitors could have had the game won inside the opening 11 minutes. There were just two minutes on the clock when Eden Hazard ran on to Mata's stunning pass but just as he prepared to shoot, he lost his balance under pressure from the covering Sebastian Larsson and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet took advantage to smother the ball.
Hazard returned the favour two minutes later to allow Mata to fire across the six-yard box, where Torres only just failed to connect, and Mignolet had to be at his best to deny the Spain forward with six minutes gone when skipper John O'Shea headed a clearance straight at team-mate Carlos Cuellar and saw the ball ricochet straight to the striker.
Having ridden their luck during the early stages, Sunderland succumbed with 11 minutes played when the visitors broke at pace. Victor Moses raced away before picking out Hazard wide on the left, and when he crossed to the near post, Torres arrived right on cue to turn it into the net.
Defender David Luiz sent a long-range 16th-minute free-kick just over the bar, but as Chelsea relaxed, Sunderland re-grouped and started to force their way back into the game. Cuellar saw a 23rd-minute shot blocked after Chelsea had failed to clear Larsson's corner, and Cech was called upon for the first time five minutes later to beat away Stephane Sessegnon's well-struck effort after Connor Wickham, deputising for the injured Steven Fletcher, had held off David Luiz to flick on.
With Craig Gardner and Johnson starting to make an impression, the Blues were forced on to the back foot at times and although they tried to hit their hosts on the counter, O'Neill's men were starting to dominate. However, disaster for Sunderland struck deep into injury time when Larsson fouled Ramires to concede a penalty that Torres converted.
Hopes of a fightback were dashed within four minutes of the restart when Phil Bardsley miscontrolled a cross and the ball ran to Torres, who was denied a hat-trick by the crossbar. The rebound dropped invitingly for Mata to make it 3-0.
It could have been four three minutes later when Mata rolled the ball into the path of Moses, who drilled a right-foot effort wide of the far post. Chelsea eased into cruise control, although Johnson gave Sunderland hope with a rasping 66th-minute strike.
Cech was called into action to save Johnson's free-kick 10 minutes later and had to dive full-length to turn away Wickham's injury-time effort, but he needed the help off the crossbar to keep out Gardner's free-kick at the death.
Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill: "It was a fantastic effort by the team and that effort was appreciated by the crowd. We should have got something out of the game.
“We put our heart and soul into the game. The penalty kick just before half-time was a major setback for us and their third goal just after half-time made it a real struggle for us to get back in the game, but we managed to do just that.
“[Adam] Johnson’s goal gave us renewed hope and the fans got behind us. It was a real battle to the end. The players are very disappointed; there’s still plenty of fight in the dressing room."
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez: “Today the team played well, especially in the first half. We had to change the shape after Oriol [Romeu] went off, Sunderland were pushing and pushing, but we showed the quality and character we have.
“If the team play well and create chances he [Torres] will score goals. It's fair to say that we are watching a Torres with more confidence and belief. I was analysing his movements and adjusting a few things. It's a question of confidence and differences in movements. The most important thing is that he appears confident.
“It's always important to win. To win in the manner we have in the last two games, with a lot of security, is fantastic. Today we showed the team has a clear idea what they want to do, and I felt they did really well. We know we have dynamic players up front, but we need to also be strong and keep the balance in defence.
“We need to be compact and work as a unit, we are playing high and creating chances, so that's a positive thing about the future. The defenders need to keep doing a good job and the offensive players will create chances and score goals.
“He [Romeu] has gone to London and we are waiting to hear from the doctor. As it stands, he won't be flying with us [to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup].”
|11 Dec 2012||v Reading (H)|
|15 Dec 2012||v Man Utd (A)|
|22 Dec 2012||v Southampton (A)|
|26 Dec 2012||v Man City (H)|
|29 Dec 2012||v Spurs (H)|
|02 Jan 2013||v Liverpool (A)|