Stoke City FC
Britannia Stadium, Staffordshire
April 02, 2011; 07:30 pm, IST
London is very much in the running for the league title, and no, it is not just Arsenal. With United and Arsenal slipping up, Chelsea are right back in the race, albeit a little handicapped by the head-start the other two clubs have on them. There is hope for the Blues, now. Perhaps, Fernando Torres could wake up from his slumber and change the complexion of Chelsea’s final run-in?
Right now, they focus on a tough away trip to face the Potters. Stoke City host the defending champions at the Britannia Stadium this Saturday, in a bid to maintain their rich form at home in recent times.
Tenth-placed Stoke City have won four out of their last six home games and are unbeaten in their last five matches at the Britannia. Stoke’s defeat of Newcastle by a margin of 4-0 in their last outing was their biggest ever victory in Premier League history. However, the Potters are only 5 points ahead of the relegation battlers, making each and every game crucial for them.
Stoke City have not managed to defeat Chelsea at the Britannia Stadium since 1975. This, however, may not be a concern for Pulis’ men as Chelsea have made it a habit of ending the opponents’ dry spell this season; losing to Wolves after 28 years and to Birmingham City after 30 years. Out of 15 home games, they have conceded at least one goal in as many as ten games. However, they have not conceded more than a couple of goals in any game so far. Tony Pulis will be hoping that his team does a Wolves or Birmingham so that the team maintains its respectable position in the league table.
Chelsea are presently brimming with confidence, having beaten both Manchester United and Manchester City in the last month. New signing David Luiz has been a revelation. Chelsea have an overwhelming record against their hosts in the last few meetings. They have scored 11 times in the last three meetings which included a seven-goal thrashing at the Bridge and have not conceded a single goal.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Ever since their victory over Westham, Stoke have looked dangerous in their own backyard. Despite the fact that they might have to make do without loaned striker John Carew, they look to fill up his void with either Walters or Fuller to play alongside Kenwyne Jones. Thomas Sorensen is also likely to make it to the bench after recovering from an injury suffered last month. Shawcross and ex-Chelsea man Robert Huth are expected to form the centre half pairing with Wilson and Higginbotham to complete the back four. Etherington and Pennant will play the role of the wide midfielders, while Delap and Whelan will play down the middle.
Pulis is expected to field a 4-4-2 formation against Chelsea, similar to Chelsea’s plan of action. Higginbotham and Wilson are expected to team up with wide midfielders Etherington and Pennant to put pressure on either side of Chelsea’s flanks. Delap to play the role of the ball-winning midfielder. In addition to it, Chelsea have to be wary of his long throws as well. Whelan will play the creative role in the midfield.
Probable Starting Line-up(4-4-2 Def): Begovic(GK), Wilson, Shawcross, Huth, Higginbotham; Pennant, Whelan, Delap, Etherington; Walters/Fuller, Jones.
Though Alex and Benayoun are back after a hiatus, they are not expected to be a part of this game. Both are expected to return to action by the second leg of the Champions League clash against Manchester United. Benayoun has already represented Israel against Georgia, playing for the final 20 minutes. Drogba scored a brace against Benin in the qualifying round of the African Cup Of Nations, making his case for a place in the starting lineup stronger.David Luiz and Terry will share the duty of the centre half, while Ivanovic and Cole will be the ever-reliable fullbacks.
Torres is yet to break his Chelsea duck in front of goal but he is expected to return to the first team. Midfield will probably remain same with Ramires, Lampard, Essien and Malouda in the middle. Drogba’s fine form is expected to present him with a chance in the starting lineup.
After the recent success with a standard 4-4-2, Ancelotti is not expected to tinker with the formation. Considering the physical nature of their opposition, Drogba is expected to start. Torres and Kalou have been struggling with a bit of injury. Ancelotti will observe Friday afternoon’s intense training session with his eye especially on both of them. The fullbacks will pair up with the wide midfielders to put pressure on the fullbacks of Stoke City. Lampard will play creative part in a box to box roll and Essien will play as the ball-winning midfielder, occasionally accompanying Lampard up front.
Probable Starting Line-up(4-4-2): Cech(GK), Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Malouda, Essien, Lampard, Ramires, Anelka/Torres, Drogba.
- Both Chelsea and Stoke have dropped only four points from winning positions this season – the best record in the Barclays Premier League.
- Chelsea’s Fernando Torres has not scored a single goal in the last 7 premier league appearances.
- The Potters are unbeaten at home in their last five, winning four of them.
The HardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Didier Drogba(Chelsea FC)
Fresh from a positive outing with the national team, Didier Drogba looks ready to get back into the starting lineup. Since Torres’s arrival, Drogba was unfortunately relegated to the bench. He needed a chance to prove that he can still provide the goals for his club. A stellar performance in this game will be good enough to earn him a place in the starting lineup in the upcoming matches as well.
The HardTackle’s PREDICTION:
Stoke City FC 1-2 Chelsea FC
In terms of tactics, both the teams will adopt a similar style. Stoke City will try to put pressure on Chelsea’s fullbacks by keeping them busy with their defensive duties so that they cannot pair up with the wide midfielders to form attacks from both the flanks. Their centre-halves Shawcross and Huth are expected to tightly mark Drogba and company. Chelsea, on the other hand, will look to dominate the midfield with some physical display and try to hit Stoke City hard on counters.
The Hardtackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST:
Chelsea are quite capable of hammering the Potters. Find proof below.