MARTIN O’NEILL was in the stands at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to witness first-hand the maiden victory of Rafa Benitez’s reign as Chelsea manager.
And the 6-1 demolition of Danish side Nordsjaelland only reinforced the Sunderland manager’s view of Chelsea’s attacking riches, despite their seven-game streak without a Premier League victory.
Champions League elimination in midweek – due to Juventus’s win at Shakhtar Donetsk – only compounded the sense of unease at Stamford Bridge, following the dismissal of Roberto Di Matteo and successor Benitez’s return of just two points from his opening three league games, with just one goal scored.
But the Sunderland manager remains wary of Chelsea’s attacking riches, with only Spurs and the two Manchester clubs scoring more in the top flight this season.
O’Neill said: “I watched the Chelsea game on Wednesday night at Stamford Bridge and they have a load of quality players, a number of which weren’t even playing.
“They are really good going forward.
“Last week, they would have been really disappointed after not taking anything against West Ham when they were a goal in front and looked as if they were absolutely cruising.
“But they missed a couple of great chances to put the game beyond West Ham and suffered the consequences.
“They’ve got the capabilities and they’ve had it for some time.
“Now that they’re out the Champions League, they’re heading off to the World Club Championship.
“But they’ll be very much focused on sealing their place in the top four.”
O’Neill knows Sunderland’s focus has to be on their own fortunes, rather than that of the opposition, as they look to discover come consistency after two dramatically contrasting halves in last Sunday’s defeat at Norwich City.
“I don’t want to get obsessed about what the opposition are thinking at this moment,” he said.
“Yes, of course it’s a point to consider, but we’ve got to think about what we’re trying to do ourselves.
“We have to try to replicate the second-half performance against Norwich as early as possible in the game.”
Tomorrow’s match is the first of back-to-back encounters at the Stadium of Light, with Sunderland hosting second-bottom Reading on Tuesday night.
And O’Neill knows the Black Cats need to give their home crowd some encouragement after just one victory on Wearside since March.
O’Neill added: “The Stadium of Light crowd can make a big, big difference to the team.
“I feel as if they want to cheer on something.
“Yes, of course there’s frustration which seems to have been pent up for years and years and it’s a way of letting loose.
“But if we can do something on the field to make them feel as if these boys really need supporting, then that makes a big difference.”