Last Updated: 08/12/12 4:53pm
The final whistle goes and Chelsea have run out 3-1 winners to narrow the gap on second-placed Manchester City to four points and pile more pressure on Martin O'Neill's Sunderland. Next stop Japan for the Club World Cup.
Sunderland are given a late chance to grab a lifeline as they win a free-kick just outside the area, and Craig Gardner rattles the crossbar with a tremendous piledriver.
Four minutes of stoppage time have been signalled as Petr Cech dives away to his right to tip away a Connor Wickham strike from 20 yards.
James McClean provides a wicked low cross from the left wing but Louis Saha is nowhere in sight and Chelsea can usher the ball away to sent off.
Some Sunderland supporters are beginning to stream out of the Stadium of Light, having come to the conclusion that Chelsea are not going to be caught here.
Juan Mata has a look of resignation on his face as he receives a yellow card from Mark Halsey following a foul on Jack Colback.
Chelsea appear to have weathered the storm and Sunderland's fans have gone quiet again as the clock ticks down and there is still a two-goal deficit to make up.
Frank Lampard lets fly from distance with a dipping effort that Simon Mignolet can take no chances with, as the goalkeeper punches it away to safety.
Craig Gardner delivers a cross from the left for Sunderland which is easily claimed by Petr Cech in the centre.
Seb Larsson is replaced by Louis Saha for the final stages as Martin O'Neill throws caution to the wind.
Frank Lampard makes his return to action following a spell on the sidelines with a calf problem as he comes on in place of Eden Hazard to shore things up for Chelsea.
Sunderland are having to commit more bodies forward in search of a goal and that could leave them vulnerable at the back, but Fernando Torres lacks support as he picks up the ball in an advanced area.
Chelsea's defenders look nervous now as they unconvincingly deal with a couple of corners in quick succession, before launching a swift break through Ryan Bertrand.
Connor Wickham earns a free-kick for Sunderland following a foul by Ashley Cole in a great position just a few yards outside the area, and Petr Cech is forced to pull off a smart stop to prevent Adam Johnson's curling effort from going into the top corner.
Eden Hazard shows excellent vision to pick out Juan Mata in the Sunderland area, but the ball does not quite sit down nicely enough for the Spaniard to get in a shot and the hosts can breathe easily again.
Branislav Ivanovic is cautioned for a foul on James McClean in midfield that stopped a potentially threatening counter-attack dead in its tracks.
David Luiz has had a good game and he excels himself once again with a good headed clearance from Seb Larsson's dangerous cross towards the back post.
That Adam Johnson goal has really lifted the crowd and the players are responding as well as they push forward again. Another goal for Sunderland would set up a nerve-jangling finale.
Martin O'Neill shuffles his pack for the first time as he brings on Jack Colback for Phil Bardsley, with Seb Larsson taking up the right-back spot for the moment.
GOAL Adam Johnson reduces Sunderland's arrears with a fabulous, swerving shot from a tight angle on the left that flies across Petr Cech, who inexplicably pulls his hands away.
Adam Johnson brilliantly controls a long diagonal pass from Danny Rose and skilfully evades Ashley Cole, but the Chelsea full-back is an experienced player and quickly gets back to dispossess the winger.
Chelsea make their second change of the afternoon as Ryan Bertrand comes on for Victor Moses, which will probably mean Eden Hazard switching across to the right.
Mark Halsey decides to keep his cards in his pocket as Juan Mata tries to kick out at Seb Larsson following a foul but does not make contact.
Oscar decides the wants to get in on the act and tries his luck from 20 yards, but it is an ambitious effort which does not trouble Simon Mignolet as the ball blazes over the bar.
Branislav Ivanovic sends over a disappointing cross from the right wing that comfortably clears the head of Fernando Torres as well as all the Sunderland defenders in the box.
James McClean skips away from Branislav Ivanovic but does not have the room to get past the second defender as Gary Cahill covers his team-mate.
Juan Mata delivers an unusually poor pass from midfield as a potentially promising Chelsea attack comes to nothing.
Sunderland almost pull a goal back on the counter-attack but Petr Cech produces a fine save from James McClean to keep Chelsea's lead intact.
Chelsea look rampant now and will think they can increase their advantage considerably in the time that is left, as Victor Moses drags a shot wide from a tight angle.
GOAL Juan Mata makes it 3-0 to Chelsea with a calm finish after Fernando Torres' fierce drive crashes against the post and falls into his path, following some sloppy defending from a Victor Moses cross.
Craig Gardner wriggles away from a challenge in midfield and plays a pass forward towards Connor Wickham, but Petr Cech comes out quickly to gather the ball and nearly carries it outside the area as he slides on the turf.
Oscar's heavy touch lets him down after timing his run into the box perfectly to latch on to Juan Mata's excellent pass.
Sunderland get the second half started and they have a lot of work to do to get back into this game. There have been no further changes at the interval.
Can Fernando Torres complete his hat-trick after the break? The Spaniard is 6/1 to do so by netting next.
That goal on the stroke of half-time has dealt a huge blow to Sunderland's hopes of getting anything from this game, with Fernando Torres now scenting a hat-trick and Chelsea firmly in control at 2-0.
GOAL Fernando Torres steps up to take ownership of the spot-kick and he calmly doubles Chelsea lead as Simon Mignolet dives to his right and the ball flies into the other corner.
PENALTY Seb Larsson brings down Ramires with a clumsy challenge and the referee has no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Sunderland mount one final push and win a corner following strong defending by David Luiz, but the delivery is too deep and Chelsea survive.
Fernando Torres shrugs his shoulders in bewilderment as a free-kick is awarded against him after he appears to win the ball cleanly from Danny Rose.
Craig Gardner becomes the first player into the book following a high challenge on Oscar, giving Mark Halsey little choice but to brandish a yellow.
Sunderland break with speed and Craig Gardner opts to go for goal rather than play in Adam Johnson, which turns out to perhaps be the wrong decision as the shot fizzes narrowly wide of Petr Cech's left-hand post.
Ashley Cole combines nicely with Eden Hazard and Victor Moses before sending in a cross from the left, but he does not really have any team-mates in the centre and Sunderland are able to clear quite comfortably.
Chelsea fail to make the most of the resulting free-kick and have just lost some of their sparkle after starting the game so brightly.
Phil Bardsley brings down Juan Mata with quite an ugly challenge 30 yards from goal and he is fortunate, firstly not to receive a card and secondly because the Spaniard is able to get back to his feet quickly.
The pace of the game has just dropped over the past couple of minutes, as things get a bit bogged down in midfield.
Sunderland start another probing attack but lose patience as Danny Rose lets fly with a wild shot from 30 yards that sails high into the stands.
Ramires shows good defensive discipline as he covers David Luiz to intercept a potentially dangerous cross before it can reach Connor Wickham.
Chelsea relieve the pressure as Eden Hazard races away down the left wing and cuts inside, but his cross fails to beat the first defender.
Adam Johnson fails to get the better of Ashley Cole on this occasion as the Chelsea defender makes a well-timed challenge, but he is unhappy that a throw-in is awarded to Sunderland.
Sunderland are building up a head of steam now, as Adam Johnson shows nimble footwork to escape from his defender and pull back a cross from inside the area, but the ball is cut out and goes behind for another corner.
Stephane Sessegnon unleashes a ferocious shot from distance following good work by Connor Wickham but Petr Cech is equal to the task as he dives to his left to parry the ball behind for a corner.
Adam Johnson does well to retrieve an extremely deep cross from Danny Roses and gets the ball back into the centre, where Phil Bardsley's shot crashes into David Luiz and almost breaks for James McClean, but Petr Cech is quickly off his line.
Sunderland are just starting to gain a foothold in the game and are showing plenty of urgency, as James McClean and Seb Larsson hunt down Victor Moses to win the ball back.
Danny Rose earns a corner for Sunderland following a strong run and Seb Larsson's delivery causes problems in the Chelsea box, but Carlos Cuellar's shot is blocked by a sea of bodies and the ball is eventually scrambled clear.
Sunderland are trying to play the killer pass too quickly when they do get possession, as Stephane Sessegnon's ball forward is easily dealt with by Gary Cahill.
Sunderland enjoy a period of possession for the first time this afternoon, but fail to make much headway and Chelsea instantly look more threatening when they win the ball back.
Frank Lampard had been warming up but Rafa Benitez instead turns to Oscar in an attacking substitution, so there is certainly no sign of Chelsea sitting on their lead.
Oriol Romeu has been limping for a few minutes following an earlier aerial challenge with Connor Wickham, when he may have twisted his ankle upon landing, and it looks as if he will now have to go off.
Seb Larsson concedes a free-kick 30 yards from goal following a foul on Ramires, and David Luiz tries his Cristiano Ronaldo routine. It does not look quite as graceful as he would like, however, as the ball flies harmlessly over Simon Mignolet's crossbar.
Chelsea fully deserve their lead after such a bright start and the Stadium of Light faithful now need to play a part in lifting their troops.
GOAL Fernando Torres breaks the deadlock for Chelsea with a well-executed firts-time volley from Eden Hazard's pinpoint left-wing cross, following a swift attack that had started with Victor Moses' pass out wide.
Chelsea are playing some good stuff in the early stages but Sunderland look up for the fight, as two players converge on Ashley Cole in an effort to win the ball.
David Luiz may be infuriating at times with some of the things he does but when it comes off he looks great, as he spins away from a difficult situation in defence with a neat piece of skill.
Simon Mignolet keeps Sunderland on level terms as he springs quickly off his line to smother Fernando Torres' shot, although the Spaniard should perhaps not have given him a chance after finding himself in oceans of space at the back post following an unfortunate ricochet off John O'Shea's attempted clearance.
Chelsea carve their way through Sunderland's defence with a delightful move but they cannot provide the finish as Juan Mata squares the ball into no man's land, with Fernando Torres not quite on the same wavelength.
Juan Mata plays in Eden Hazard with a sumptuous pass but the Belgian, after riding the first challenge from Seb Larsson, goes down under pressure from Simon Mignolet. He screams for a penalty but referee Mark Halsey rules that the keeper has won the ball and waves play on. At first glance it is hard to say if that was the correct decision, but Hazard is certainly not happy.
Stephane Sessegnon nearly releases Adam Johnson down the right wing as Sunderland make a lively start, but the former Man City man cannot quite keep the ball in play.
Chelsea get us started in what promises to be an intriguing, and tense, clash between two sides in need of a victory.
Nigel Baldwin makes his feelings on the new regime pretty clear, writing: "After 43 years of following Chelsea this is the first time I have ever felt totally disillusioned with the club. Even when we were one game from the old Third Division back in 82-83 my faith never wavered, but Benitez can win the World Club Championship, the League and rescue a dozen children form a burning orphanage, but as far as I am concerned he is not, and never will be accepted as part of my club...and I know I am not alone in this sentiment! Obviously I want us to win today, but my heart really isn't in it!"
Lewis Emslie says: "As a Chelsea fan, I can only see one outcome: Chelsea hammering Sunderland. After the Nordsjaelland game, we should be confident of hammering them. Plus, Chelsea will hope for momentum going into the Club World Cup. Going for a 4-0 Chelsea win: Mata, Torres (2) and Moses to score. Come on you Blues!"
Marcus writes: "Hi there. I think it will be a simple win for chelsea and getting a clean sheet. 2-0 chelsea with Torres and Mata scoring."
So Rafa Benitez keeps faith with the side that beat Nordsjaelland 6-1 in the Champions League, although Frank Lampard provides a boost by returning to the bench following a calf problem. Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill makes two changes to the team beaten 2-1 at Norwich last weekend, with John O'Shea returning from a calf injury and Connor Wickham taking the place of Steven Fletcher (ankle).
Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Cuellar, O'Shea, Rose, Johnson, Gardner, Larsson, McClean, Sessegnon, Wickham. Subs: Westwood, Campbell, Kilgallon, Colback, Vaughan, Bramble, Saha.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole, Ramires, Romeu, Mata, Moses, Hazard, Torres. Subs: Turnbull, Lampard, Oscar, Ferreira, Marin, Azpilicueta, Bertrand.
James says: "As a Chelsea fan i am hoping for a win today. I reckon 3-1 Chelsea with Torres (2) and Hazard for Chelsea and Sessegnon for Sunderland. C'mon u BLUES!!!"
Jordan writes: "Hi, Rafa will be going all in for a win in an attempt to win over the fans so I'm going for a Chelsea win today, with a 4-1 victory, Torres to get 2 Mata 1 and Luiz 1."
Joe Hewitt is the first to get in touch, saying: "As always Juan Mata will be the difference, with Fletcher out injured Sunderland will struggle to find the net. 3-0 Chelsea, Mata, Torres and Cahill on the score sheet."
Chelsea will next week fight for the title of Club World Cup champions, and head to Japan straight after this match to represent Europe. Based on their current form, however, potential semi-final opponents Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea and Mexican side Monterrey will be confident of causing an upset.
Martin O'Neill's Black Cats are hovering just outside the relegation zone and could be sucked into the bottom three this afternoon if results do not go their way. Chelsea have gone seven games without a victory in the Premier League and are now ten points adrift of leaders Manchester United in the title race, while in midweek they made a slice of unwanted history by becoming the first holders to exit the UEFA Champions League at the group stage.
Get in touch with your views and predictions at Lewis.Rutledge@bskyb.com or via Twitter @SkySportsLewis. Will this be the day that Rafa Benitez's Chelsea reign gets up and running, or will Sunderland return to form to pull clear of trouble? The full team news will be in shortly but who do you think are likely to be the key players?