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Stoke City

Stamford Bridge, London

Saturday 4th April, 2015, 17:30 GMT

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Can Chelsea do it on a cold night at the Britannia? Can they at least do it on an afternoon at Stamford Bridge? Chelsea have a six point lead at the top of the table, and a game in hand, but have looked unusually susceptible in the business end of the season. Stoke certainly have history against them, with 31 years having passed since they last won at The Bridge. Stoke certainly have the firepower to upset a few big names on their day, but have also looked brittle with losses to fellow also-rans Southhampton and Burnley.

Team News and Tactics

Chelsea

The Blues are in thick of the transfer market rumor season again, it would seem. The chatter seems to have settled on an Oscar-Ramires swap for the talented Pogba. But if you’re looking for a nod towards that rumor from the team selection for today’s game, you’re likely to be disappointed either way.

Diego Costa will likely sit this game out, having not recovered from an injury niggle. Remy will get the nod ahead of him.

Chelsea’s remaining line-up will pick themselves, barring any sudden as yet unanticipated display of faith by Mourinho in Cuadrado’s ability to step up to a big game just yet. Willian, Hazard and Oscar should add to the imperious creativity quotient for the Blues, and it will fall to Fabregas and Matic to do a better job bolstering the midfield than they have this year.

Fabregas’ recent returns in the middle of the field have not exactly been much to write home about, and his contributions could do with the calming presence of Matic cleaning up after him. The Spaniard’s reputation for a dip in form in the latter half of seasons, is on everyone’s minds, and the relatively long rest break the Blues have had prior to this game will certainly have helped.

Mourinho will play it safe at the back, opting for Zouma in place of Cahill despite the latter’s return to form. Azpilicueta and Ivanovic will then revert to playing in the usual positions, at left and right back. Courtois will get the nod over Petr Cech, who has all but given up on fighting for a place in the team next season.

Predicted Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Terry, Zouma, Ivanovic; Fabregas, Matic; Hazard, Oscar, Willian; Remy

Chelsea-Stoke

Stoke City

Mark Hughes seems to have figured Chelsea out; or at least the period Chelsea is most dangerous in. Sparky, a former Blues man himself, is certain the Blues have an edge in games they score in the first 15 minutes. Expect the Stoke manager to pack his midfield and instruct his team to play an unadventurous first quarter of the game, in a bid to starve Chelsea of space and inspiration.

He could be short of Victor Moses and Muniesa, suffering from a groin and hamstring injury respectively, and will look to the experienced Crouch to lead the attacking up front. The rest of his line-up should be predictable enough. With a 5-man midfield expected, presuming Moses plays, he will have to contend with Chelsea’s Ivanovic bearing down on him. On the opposite flank, Hughes will be hoping Cameron does enough to assist Bardsley in keeping Hazard from having a field day.

Predicted Line Up (4-5-1): Begovic; Wollscheid, Wilson, Shawcross, Bardsley; Moses, Whelan, Nzonzi, Walters, Cameron; Crouch

Key Facts

  1. Stoke last beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge 31 years ago, but won the reverse fixture last season
  2. Chelsea won last season’s edition of this game 3-0
  3. Referee J. Moss has a penchant for dishing out cards at an average of 4.08 per game

Final Prediction

Chelsea are undeniably vulnerable, and will look tired after the international break. But on balance, the Blues have the better side and are playing at home. Chelsea should win a close fought encounter with a two goals to one margin.

Predicted Score: Chelsea 2-1 Stoke

Blast from the Past