By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/December 30, 2017
After seeing off a resilient Brighton and Hove Albion side on Boxing Day, we await the arrival of yet another troublesome opposition, even though they were comfortably dispatched at the Bet365 Stadium earlier in the season, as we look to rack up points even if successfully defending our title is a tall other with us being a massive 16 points adrift of runaway leaders Man City. Three points against the Potters is an important as our next Premier League assignment takes us to the Emirates Stadium to face a somewhat misfiring Arsenal side.
Chelsea’s rivalry with Stoke City dated as far back as 1922 in a match Chelsea won thanks to two goals from inside forward, Buchanan Sharp. We’ve faced the Potters a further 99 times since that first encounters, mostly in the second division, with Chelsea winning 48 and losing 30 with the last 22 ending in draws. I’d be massively worried if this match is in the League Cup and not the Premier League as we’re still looking for our first victory against Stoke City in that competition in 8 attempts. The first time we faced them in the League Cup was in the final in March 1972 in a match we were expected to win but still lost to a George Eastham goal midway through the second half Peter Osgood having canceled out Terry Conroy’s opener. We’ve been utterly dominant against the Potters in the Premier League though especially at Stamford Bridge. We’ve faced Stoke City 19 times, the first of which came in 2008, and lost just twice both coming at the Bet365 Stadium (W15 D2). Chelsea has only failed to score against Stoke City just once in a 0-0 draw back in 2011. This looks like a straightforward Chelsea win on paper but then again this match will be played on the surface of the Stamford Bridge pitch and not on the face of a paper, but we should still have too much for the Potters on Saturday.
Alvaro Morata returned to the team after his recent suspension with a bang on Boxing Day scoring our first goal with another bullet header from yet another Cesar Azpilicueta assist. Andreas Christensen deservedly got the day off on Tuesday having been involved heavily over the last few weeks but should be back in contention on Saturday. Having overcome his injuries woes since arriving in West London, Danny Drinkwater will be looking to force his way into Antonio Conte’s team and by so doing put himself in a good position for a World Cup berth. Willian and Pedro were back among the substitutes for Tuesday’s game, having both started the previous three in a row, with the Brazilian coming off the bench to replace Eden Hazard late on so both will be fresh should the coach be willing to call upon them. Super Frankie Lampard would have conveniently scored a hat trick with the chances Tiemoue Bakayoko had on Tuesday but the lanky Frenchman didn’t take any of the chances but more importantly he looked like he could use some rest with him playing over Christmas for the very first time in his career. Michy Batshuayi hasn’t been involved as much as many a Chelsea fans would have wanted but Saturday afternoon is another opportunity for the Belgian to rack up the minutes. Hopefully he has done enough in training to impress the coaches so as to be included in the match day squad. Gary Cahill played through the centre of our back three on Tuesday and it’s yet to be seen whether he returns to his position as the LWB or if Toni Rudiger did enough on Tuesday to retain his place with Cahill making way. Eden Hazard is in the form of his life and will again be a menace to the Stoke City defence along with his partner in crime Alvaro Morata.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Drinkwater, Alonso; Hazard, Morata.
Last Five Matches: WDWLD
Injuries: David Luiz (Muscle) –Out.
Mark Hughes’ Stoke City side has won 4 points from their last two Premier League games to stop a run of three consecutive losses. The former Welsh international likes to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and that’s likely how he’ll set up at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon. With Kurt Zouma ineligible for Saturday’s game, Austrian Kevin Wimmer might be asked to partner Ryan Shawcross in the heart of the Potters’ defense having been deputizing for Eric Pieters at left back for the past two games. Mark Hughes was forced to reshuffle his back line during the reverse fixtures with injuries to his back four forcing him to play the trio of Glen Johnson, Bruno Martins Indi and Eric Pieters in a back three that conceded four goals. Geoff Cameron has been played in midfield several times this season including the last two games but he could also return to the defense, especially if Mark Hughes decides to continue with his experiment with a back three against the Blues, paving the way for Charlie Adams to return to the fold. At the John Smith’s Stadium on Tuesday, Mark Hughes lined up with a back four that included 18 year old Thomas Edwards, Ryan Shawcross, Kurt Zouma and Kevin Wimmer with Jack Butland secured between the posts. Geoff Cameron and Darren Fletcher, who was culpable for our second goal at the Bet365 Stadium back in September, anchors the midfield while the trio of Eric Maxime Choupo-Moting, Joe Allen and Xherdan Shaqiri playing behind lone striker Peter Crouch. Senegalese striker Mame Biram Diouf is another option to lead the line with the Senegalese being more physical than Peter Crouch.
Butland; Edwards, Shawcross, Cameron, Wimmer; Fletcher, Adams; Shaqiri; Allen, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.
Last Five Matches: DWLLL
Injuries: Bruno Martins Indi (Groin) –Out; Glen Johnson (Knee) –Out; Eric Pieters (Hip) –Doubt; Stephen Ireland (Knee) –Out; Ryan Shawcross (Calf) –Doubt.
Alvaro Morata vs. Ryan Shawcross
The Stoke City captain was out due to injury when Alvaro Morata ran riot against his team back in September with the Spaniard scoring his first, and only so far, Chelsea hat trick in that game but with the English defender now back fit this is shaping up to be a pretty physical battle between two footballers who possess massive aerial ability.
Marcos Alonso vs. Xherdan Shaqiri
Even in a losing battle back in September Xherdan Shaqiri caused Marcos Alonso a lot of problems and Mark Hughes will be hoping for more of the same against the Spaniard especially if the Stoke City’s manager intends to start lanky forward Peter Crouch.
Andreas Christensen vs. Peter Crouch
Andreas is sure to have his place in the central of our back three back after he was rested in midweek, barring any form of misfortune, and should that be the case he’s going to facing an unusual kind of opposition in almost 7ft tall Peter Crouch. The Danish Prince hasn’t looked fazed by any of the challenges he’s faced in his short Chelsea career so far and I’m hoping he doesn’t start on Saturday.
Mark Hughes’ side has struggled for consistency this season but they are beginning to string some results together ahead of their trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday where the home side has won the last six in the league. A win on Saturday for Antonio Conte’s men will go a long way in enduring Champions’ League qualification for the second successive season ahead of a trip to the Emirates on Wednesday. Antonio Conte has stated his team has to overtake Manchester United before dreaming of lunching a pursuit of runaway leaders Manchester City and the Italian has Jose Mourinho’s team in his sight with just a point separating the two teams. A win for Chelsea at the weekend and anything other than a win for United against Southampton will see Chelsea leapfrog them into second for the first time this season. Happy New Year in advance Blues and Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Bleacher Report
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