survival sunday

Hiddink to field strong side at Sunderland

May 21, 2009

Chelsea's interim coach Guus Hiddink has promised Sunderland's relegation rivals that he will not rest many of his top stars in their final game of the season on Sunday.

Sunderland are only two points clear of the relegation zone and need to win their final game at home to Chelsea to guarantee a place in the Premier League next season.

But fears that Chelsea would field an understrength side at the Stadium of Light have been soothed by the Dutch coach.

The match comes six days before Chelsea play Everton in the FA Cup final at Wembley but their chances of snatching second place in the league look remote.

Liverpool need only a draw at home against Tottenham to secure the runner-up spot but with Newcastle away to Aston Villa and Hull at home to Manchester United, there is plenty at stake at the bottom end.

Newcastle and Hull will be delighted to learn that Hiddink views Chelsea's game at Sunderland as a vital part of the team's preparation for the FA Cup final.

"I don't want to rest a lot of people because they need to maintain their physical shape and also the way we want them to play,'' said Hiddink. "If I rest too many people then I don't think it's good preparation for Wembley.''

Meanwhile, Chelsea's players will gather for the annual Player of the Year awards dinner tonight and Nigeria midfielder John Mikel Obi is among the favourites to lift the prize.

The 22-year-old midfielder has enjoyed his best season since arriving at Stamford Bridge.

Mikel has made 47 appearances and secured a position for himself as the team's deep-lying midfielder.

Hiddink opted to employ another player alongside the African, whose job is also to protect the defence.

That tactic allowed the triumvirate of Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka to focus solely on their attacking game.

"The shape has changed a little, but it doesn't affect my game very much,'' said Mikel.

"The way the manager feels is that it is more comfortable for Frank, for him to be able to move forward more and get more freedom, not thinking so much about defending.

"And the same for Malouda and Anelka so Michael Essien or Michael Ballack and me have to track back more.

"I have played a lot of games and I am happy with that achievement over the course of the season and the way I have contributed.

"I will be disappointed when the season ends because I love coming in here every day and training with the guys, and the banter that we share, but we have a few weeks away to rest.''