Sam Allardyce has ordered his Sunderland players to stand up and be counted during the frantic festive period as he looks to increase to the turmoil facing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
While Jose Mourinho’s departure has dominated the build-up to the game Allardyce’s chief concern is rescuing his side from the relegation zone after two consecutive defeats stopped the Black Cats’ revival in its tracks.
And Allardyce believes the way his players respond to the mighty challenge of playing six games in 24 days over Christmas and the New Year will go a long way of shaping their destiny for the rest of their campaign.
Allardyce said: “We’re in a position where we’ve got a few players who have not experienced Christmas before – the hurly-burly and the constant pressure that you come under for a short period of time, when everyone else is relaxing and you’re full-on twenty-four-seven.
“You’ve got to look into the players’ eyes and see whether the lads can handle it or not, particularly the lads who have only played in the Premier League for one season. Changing the side will be a necessity based on the physical and mental fatigue the players are going to go through.
“They have put themselves back under enormous pressure by not picking up at least a point against Watford. We were looking pretty comfortable a few weeks ago and in the space of two games both Newcastle and Bournemouth have made it very difficult.
“We’ve slipped back into the bottom two and we have put enormous pressure on ourselves over the Christmas period to try and get out of there.”
Clearly the feeling on Wearside is that last Saturday’s home capitulation to Watford could cost the Black Cats dear, particularly because Manchester City and Liverpool are the next opponents after the managerless west Londoners.
But while Mourinho’s sudden exit will change the psychology ahead of Saturday’s game, Allardyce believes his side can take great heart from the way other so-called unfancied sides have fared against the big clubs this season.
Allardyce, who described Chelsea’s demise this season as “staggering”, added: “The encouraging thing is that Bournemouth have just beaten Manchester United and Chelsea and Newcastle have just beaten Liverpool and Tottenham, so on that basis if you play our very best on the day you can get a result in the Premier League.”
Allardyce is still without Lee Cattermole and Sebastian Larsson for the trip to Stamford Bridge while defender Sebastian Coates might also be missing after sitting out training on Thursday due to illness.