Stamford Brigde, London
September 22, 2012; 15:00 BST
Post their first European fixture as the ‘defending champions’ against Juventus on Wednesday night, Chelsea get ready for two more home fixtures coming their way. The first of those games will be against Stoke City this coming Saturday.
Their last Premier League fixture saw them draw 0 – 0 against bitter rivals Queens Park Rangers. It may have felt like a subpar performance, but the fact that it was a derby will have to be considered. Chelsea and Eden Hazard in particular, might have also felt a bit hard done by the referee’s decision to not award a penalty. The Belgian was also denied one against Juventus in what was a very good team performance in both halves. However, the Stamford Bridge side let themselves down by letting complacency blunt their sharpness against the old lady. The performance of the new number eleven, Oscar was a major positive for the Blues though.
Coming back to the Premier League, Chelsea sit on top of the table with a one point lead over Manchester United. But being just four games into the Premier League, it is hard to say whether they will stay there. Stoke City will take comfort from the fact that Chelsea do look defensively vulnerable in between all of their moments of newfound attacking brilliance.
Tony Pulis’ Stoke would definitely have expected a better start to their 2012/13 league season than they have had so far. Their first four fixtures in the league have seen them face Reading, Arsenal, Wigan Athletic and Manchester City, and the Potters have managed only 4 points from 4 games so far. Their performance last weekend against the League Champions was unconvincing despite the eventual 1 – 1 score line and it took the stupendous efforts of keeper Asmir Begovic to keep Manchester City at bay. Peter Crouch got the goal which helped them win the point, but replays showed that the striker had clearly handled the ball in order to control it.
While everyone at Stoke will be heaving a sigh of relief at getting way with a point against Arsenal and City, they are likely to be disappointed with the results that came against Reading and Wigan Athletic. Manager Tony Pulis will be well aware of the fact that Stoke City do need a win and will not relish facing a Chelsea side that is equally hungry for one, after a defeat in the UEFA Super Cup and back to back draws against QPR and Juventus.
Team News & Tactical Brief
It is very early in the season and so far; Chelsea look safe on the injuries front. Apart from the hamstring problem that has kept Marko Marin from making his competitive debut, the Londoners seem to have a full squad. Manager Roberto Di Matteo has called for the UEFA to look into what seemed like a stamp by defender Leonardo Bonnuci on the ankle of star performer Oscar. The midfielder did say that he felt sore but he is likely to be fit for the Saturday afternoon kick-off.
Daniel Sturridge’s omission from the game against Juventus surprised the Chelsea faithful, but it looks like the striker has only had a slight hamstring strain and manager Roberto Di Matteo is likely to have his other option in the No.9 position available from the bench against Stoke. Oscar might start this one from the bench given Stoke’s extremely physical style of play, with Juan Mata coming back into the starting line up.
Should Sturridge be fit and available to play, Di Matteo will be confronted by a selection dilemma. If the Chelsea manager prefers the braver decision, he is likely to go ahead with Sturridge instead of Torres who looks like a misfit despite Chelsea’s change of approach this season. It also doesn’t help that Torres decided to throw a strop when he was subbed off in the 81st minute against QPR and walked straight down the tunnel in disgust.
Chelsea actually looked far more threatening and multidimensional with Sturridge, Hazard and Victor Moses interchanging positions at will. Torres’ frustratingly one dimensional style of play seems to limit Chelsea’s attacking potential at the moment. Sturridge is perceived to be a highly selfish player, but it will serve Chelsea well should he score a few goals, propelled by greed and the willingness to cement his spot.
Di Matteo however is expected to take the safer option.
Chelsea Probable Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech, Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, Lampard, Mikel, Hazard, Mata, Ramires, Torres
Stoke City don’t seem to have any problem with injuries either, but it will be interesting to see how they intend to contend against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Considering Manchester City did dominate Stoke for large periods at the Etihad, there is reason for Tony Pulis to debate over changing his midfield combination of Charlie Adam, Glenn Whelan and Steven N’Zonzi. With Steven N’Zonzi impressing on debut, it will be a tricky decision for the Stoke manager.
Chelsea do not look particularly strong on defending set pieces at the moment and yet again, there is a decision to make for the Stoke manager on the inclusion of a certain Rory Delap into the first team. Asmir Begovic will hope for another good showing after his performance last week and there are some concerns about defender Marc Wilson facing Eden Hazard among the Stoke City faithful, due to his lack of pace.
While the Chelsea line up looks fairly straight forward to predict, the final Stoke line up depends much on what manager Tony Pulis has in mind tactically. Should he wish to contain Chelsea, expect a more solid looking set up that is likely to sit very deep. If he chooses to take the game to the European Champions, then it is likely that he will expect an improved performance from the team that faced City last week. Stoke City can hope to upset Chelsea as they have also had more rest than their opponents did over the week.
Stoke City Probable Line-up (4-5-1): Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson, Walters, Whelan, N’Zonzi, Adam, Kightly, Crouch
- The Potters have failed to score in each of their last four visits to Stamford Bridge in all competitions.
- Chelsea have won eight and lost none of the last 10 games against Stoke in all competitions.
- 75% of the goals netted in Stoke’s four league games have been from set pieces, three out of the four scored and three out of four conceded.
- Stoke are only the second team ever to draw their opening four Premier League matches (Crystal Palace 1992-93). No team has ever drawn their opening five games.
Player To Watch Out For
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
There is no doubt that the focus will be upon the Belgian wizard this weekend. It will be interesting in particular to watch how he deals with the most physical side that the Premier League can offer. Hazard is also quickly gaining reputation as an extremely dangerous customer to deal with inside the box. Having been denied stonewall penalties in each of his last two games, it presents the referee with a problem he wouldn’t want to deal with. There’s a potential controversy right there.
Chelsea 2 – 1 Stoke City
One glance at the last five games these sides have faced each other, shows that Stoke City are ever so close to figuring Chelsea out. This is a new look Chelsea which is likely to cause Stoke a few more problems, but Stoke are new look as well and that sets this game up very nicely indeed. Chelsea’s superior quality and depth in attack are likely to see them through what will be an extremely tough encounter at Stamford Bridge.