STEVE Bruce has warned that Premier League champions Chelsea come to Sunderland tomorrow night in ‘Big Four’ mood.
And he says that unless the Black Cats are on their best game they could find themselves steamrollered by a side which has ominously cruised to victory in their last three games.
The Sunderland manager acknowledges that this has been possibly the most unusual Premier League season so far in terms of form and results with the established Big Four not having it all their own way for a change and none of the three newly promoted teams proving to be lambs to the slaughter.
Sunderland have played their part in the shake-up - currently lying sixth in the league and five points ahead of Liverpool, nine ahead of Aston Villa and 10 ahead of Everton – as they look to gatecrash what many observers were beginning to describe as a new ‘Top Eight’ group in the Premier League.
Bruce said: “It has certainly been different this season.
“It’s very unusual to see Chelsea 10 points off the table of the table and Liverpool so far outside the top four at this stage of the season.
“And when we started the season it looked an almighty challenge just to try and break it into the big eight - that’s the top four plus Spurs, Man City, Everton and Villa.
“So far it has worked out a lot differently from what we might have expected and those of us who have benefited from that have to look to keep it going.
“But the big boys usually come through like trains later in the season and although some of them have left it late, the signs are that it’s likely to happen again.
“Liverpool have put a couple of wins together, Villa got a good win the other week but it is Chelsea to me who look as though they are most likely to get a real head of steam going and start pushing through.
“They’ve won their last three games in a row comfortably and they’ll be looking to come to the Stadium of Light tomorrow to prove a point after we beat them down there.”
Bruce knows from his own playing days that the turn of the year is usually when the best teams finally start showing their heels to the rest of the pack.
He said: “When I was at Manchester United we would always look to go on a good run in the New Year, it was when the best teams suddenly found their very best form, things click and you really start producing your best form.
“I can definitely see that happening to Chelsea. They look much more like their normal selves now that they are getting players back and that’s why we have to be on our guard tomorrow.
“They will be coming for us and it’s important we’re on our mettle for it. I’m looking forward to the match though, we have home advantage and I know we have the players who can cause Chelsea problems if we get it right on the night.”