LONDON, January 15 – John Terry's admission that Chelsea haven't been at the top of their game recently underlines why Carlo Ancelotti's side carry the tag of Premier League title favourites going into the second half of the campaign.Terry insists the leaders cannot afford any more slip-ups after winning just two of their last six league games but with Manchester United and Arsenal seemingly unable to take advantage, Ancelotti’s side still remain in control at the head of the table despite their dip in form.
Last weekend’s wintry conditions forced the postponement of Chelsea’s trip to Hull, potentially handing the initiative to their main rivals.
Yet both faltered, ensuring that Ancelotti’s side will attempt to extend their impressive home record against Sunderland this weekend still one point clear of United who have played a game more, and three points clear of Arsenal.
Terry has singled out Arsene Wenger’s side as a major threat following the Gunners efforts in reducing the eleven point gap that opened up between the two teams following the Blues’ comfortable victory at the Emirates Stadium in late November.
"We cannot afford any more slip-ups," said the Chelsea captain. "Thankfully the teams in and around us have been slipping up as well, but Arsenal are right back in the frame again. When we beat them 3-0 I thought they were out of it to be honest.
"We need to concentrate on ourselves because apart from the Watford (FA Cup) game, when we were brilliant albeit against a lesser side, we haven’t been playing as well.
"Hopefully that game will give us a boost and we can kick on now, and pull away when the other teams are slipping up."
Chelsea’s home record — they have claimed 28 points from a possible 30 at Stamford Bridge so far this season — and Sunderland’s woeful return of just one victory in 20 away games suggests Terry is likely to be proved right, particularly with striker Nicolas Anelka fit to return to the starting line-up.
Sunderland have spent the week training in Portugal in an effort to beat the big freeze currently gripping Britain. With spirits lifted by the welcome break from the Arctic conditions, Bolo Zenden is confident the Wearside club can add Chelsea to their collection of major scalps this season.
The Premier League leaders are the only one of the ‘big four’ to defeat the Black Cats this term after their 3-1 victory at the Stadium of Light in August. Sunderland have beaten Arsenal and Liverpool, in addition to drawing at Manchester United to take seven points from the top flight’s glamour clubs.
Only Aston Villa boast a better record against the powerful quartet, and ex-Chelsea midfielder Zenden is convinced Steve Bruce’s side can improve on their poor away record – they are without a league win on the road since the opening day victory at Bolton five months ago – to add his old club to their list of high-profile victims.
The former Dutch international, 33, has recovered from a hamstring problem to face the Blues, where he spent two years after joining from Barcelona for 7.5 million pounds in 2001.
Zenden said: "I’m looking forward to going back. Chelsea are a tough side but hopefully we can cause an upset.
"We’ve shown we can take points off the top four and Chelsea are the only one of that group to have beaten us so far this season. People say the big four aren’t as dominant this year because they’ve dropped more points than normal. But if you look at the table you can see the same names in the top three places."
Manager Bruce has Trinidad and Tobago forward Kenwyne Jones and former England midfielder Kieran Richardson available after injury, but is without defender Michael Turner, who serves the final game of a four-match suspension.