Match Preview: Chelsea vs. Stoke City
Chelsea are on the hunt for lucky #13
Stamford Bridge | December 31st, 2016
Chelsea would like nothing more than to end 2016 with a win to extend their club record win streak to 13 games. They’re already guaranteed to finish the year first place in the Premier League, and now the aim is to increase the gap between themselves and the rest of the competition. The timing may be right for them, as they face a Stoke side that are winless in 4 straight and have only had 3 days to rest. The Potters lost 4-1 to Liverpool this past Tuesday, and things will not get any easier for them against the league leaders at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues are coming off a 3-0 win at Bournemouth, a game they won even without the services of the suspended Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante. Pedro scored twice and Eden Hazard had arguably his best game of the entire year. It’s now 12 straight victories, and it increasingly looks like Chelsea are running away with the title. What will be key for them this Saturday will be not to lose focus. With a massive game against Spurs looming in the New Year, it may be easy to do just that. Stoke may not be having the greatest season, but they are certainly capable of exploiting a team that are not giving a full 100%.
Pedro, who scored a brace in the Bournemouth game, will be suspended due to yellow card accumulation. This means the front three will likely be composed of Hazard, Costa, and Willian. The return of Kante also means Fabregas will likely once again be relegated to the bench. It will be a team essentially at full strength, and one that easily has the talent to elongate this massive streak.
Injuries: Terry, Mikel (out).
Like mentioned, Stoke are on a 4-match winless streak. Their last win was December 3 against Burnley, and manager Mark Hughes is reportedly on the hot seat. This is a team that should be in the top half of the table, but currently sit at 13th place in the Premier League. Their struggles have led to the gaffer changing formations to jumpstart the team. Stoke went with a 3 CB formation with 2 wing-backs against Liverpool, although that clearly did not work (it seems that once Chelsea made that formation work everybody wants to make it work). Whether they again go with that formation or revert to their regular 4-2-3-1 remains to be seen, but either way they do not seem to pose much of a threat to Chelsea.
With that being said, this game resembles a potential “trap game”, a term commonly used across multiple sports to refer to games where the underdog has a legitimate chance to beat the favored team. Stoke are a quality side, and Mark Hughes will have them focused with his job potentially on the line.
Injuries: Butland, Cameron, Ireland (out). Bardsley (unlikely). Muniesa (probable).
Three Matchups to Watch
- Hazard vs. Pieters: in a season that hasn’t gone the way Stoke fans would have wanted, Erik Pieters is one of the few bright spots of the campaign. The Dutch full-back has been a model of consistency so far, only missing one match and playing the full 90 minutes in every other. Unfortunately for him, he has struggled against some top competition along with the rest of the backline. This bodes well for Hazard, who arguably played his best game of the season against Bournemouth. Eden will look to create space and the trickery he is known for, and whether Pieters is up to the challenge may be crucial for Stoke’s chances of getting a result.
- Moses vs. Allen: Joe Allen has by far been Stoke’s best player so far. He leads the team in goals and has provided consistency, leadership, and experience on the wing. With Arnautovic suspended, this team is undoubtedly his and will go as far as he goes. Allen will be matched up against Victor Moses, who has quieted down somewhat after a torrid stretch. Victor isn’t exactly the best defender in the world, and will be in for a tough test against the ex-Liverpool man.
- Costa vs. Shawcross: the former Manchester United player, Shawcross is the anchor of the Stoke backline. Unfortunately for him, his struggles this season have been well documented. None more so than his costly mistake that gifted Daniel Sturridge a goal in their last game. His confidence may be low, and he’ll be tasked with shutting down the Premier League’s leading scorer who is likely chomping at the bits to get back into action after being suspended. This matchup is a recipe for disaster (for Stoke that is).
- Among Chelsea’s many failures last season was a failure to beat Stoke. The Blues lost 1-0 and drew 1-1 against the Potters. Winning this Saturday is another step to putting that terrible season behind them