Chelsea travel to Staffordshire to face Mark Hughes’ Stoke City, who will look to be the first side to inflict a Premier League defeat on the Blues since January.
The last time these two sides faced each other was in the final days of Chelsea’s amazing 13-match winning streak in the Premier League. Chelsea won 4-2, after a largely unconvincing display with goals from Willian, Cahill and Costa proving to be just enough for the hosts to get all 3 points.
After that, Chelsea would suffer defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur in their first game of 2017. They would, however, recover well and go on to win 9 of the 11 games in all competitions after that and have managed to make themselves a 10 point lead atop the Premier League table.
Stoke would start their year off well with a victory against Watford, but would only win 3 games after that. The Ptters have only suffered Premier League defeat twice in 2017 and they currently sit at comfortable 9th place in the Premier League table.
Mark Hughes will be without the likes of Stephen Ireland, Glen Johnson and first choice keeper Jack Butland for this tie. Xherdan Shaqiri has returned from injury but like Marko Arnautovic and Bojan, is doubtful to start against Chelsea tonight.
Lee Grant will continue in goal, and Hughes has experimented this season with 5 at the back, they will likely stick to a 4 man defence this time, expected to comprise of ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi, Phil Bardsley and Erik Pieters.
It is yet to be seen whether Hughes will use the 4-2-4 that got them a draw against Manchester City in their last outing or a traditional 4-2-3-1 that got them victory against Middlesbrough. However, the Welshman certainly isn’t short of options upfront.
Either Charlie Adam or Glen Whelan could team up alongside Geoff Cameron in the middle of the park for the Potters with Joe Allen ahead of them as their chief creative agent, in behind the striker. Ramadan Sobhi will likely retain his place in the squad on the left wing.
Hughes can, however, pick from Ibrahim Afellay, Shaqiri, Arnautovic, Walters, Sobhi and Diouf to deploy in his midfield. Diouf will likely start upfront as the lone striker, but should Hughes choose to go for a 2 striker system, Berahino and Crouch are available for selection as well.
Predicted Starting XI(4-2-3-1): Grant; Pieters, Martins Indi, Shawcross, Bardsley; Whelan, Adam; Sobhi, Allen, Arnautovic; Diouf
With around 4 days to rest after their 1-0 victory against Manchester United in the FA Cup, Chelsea won’t really have to deal with fatigue in their squad. Only Victor Moses and David Luiz are doubtful, but it is yet to be seen whether they will be left out of the squad by Conte altogether.
A standard Chelsea 3-4-3 with the usual suspects taking their place. One change that might take place in midfield is Cesc Fabregas coming in for Nemanja Matic alongside N’golo Kante, to provide that extra bit of creativity to help unlock the Stoke City defence.
Fabregas got his 99th and 100th assists against Stoke in their last outing, so he will certainly have happy memories of facing the Potters. His compatriot Pedro might also return to the squad after having been left out of their last fixture against United.
Predicted Starting XI(3-4-3): Courtois; Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta; Alonso, Fabregas, Kante, Moses; Hazard, Costa, Willian
- Stoke City have only beaten teams that have been placed in the bottom half of the Premier League table this season.
- Chelsea have kept only 2 clean sheets in their last 9 Premier League games.
- Diego Costa’s next goal Premier League will be his 50th for Chelsea.
- Stoke City have kept 3 clean sheets in their last 4 Premier League games.
- Chelsea were last defeated in the League in January this year, a 2-0 loss against Tottenham Hotspur.
Player To Watch
Chelsea: Diego Costa
The Spaniard wasn’t quite at his clinical best in their FA Cup Quarterfinal victory against Manchester United and will desperately look to get back to his goalscoring ways against the Potters. His next goal would be his 50th Premier League goal, making it all the more important.
With 17 Premier League goals in 25 games, Costa has now returned to to form after a mini slump which began at the start of the year and should he score tonight, that goal would have come in a mere 80 games over the course of 3 years, an outstanding record.
Stoke City 1-3 Chelsea
The Blues are the far superior side, and there is no reason why one can’t expect a comprehensive victory against the Potters. On the basis of the sheer gulf of quality between the two sides, this should be an easy three points for Antonio Conte’s side, at least on paper.
However, Stoke are capable of the odd upset and will certainly take confidence from their draw against Manchester City. They held both Manchester United and Everton to a draw at the Bet365 Stadium and they wouldn’t put it past themselves to do the same against the League leaders.