After the carnage of our 2-0 home defeat, to Swansea in the Capital One Cup semi-final on Wednesday evening, it`s back to the grind that is the Premier League. This Saturday Chelsea face a difficult trip to the Britannia Stadium to face a Stoke City team, managed by Tony Pulis, that are extremely difficult to score against, let alone beat, on their own patch. With our Premier League title ambitions becoming just a distant dream, Rafa Benitez will be perfectly aware that three points are desperately needed to bolster our Champions League qualification hopes for next season.
In a way it`s probably better that we are on the road this weekend, the sudden drop off in our home form, with the increasing pressure on Rafa Benitez, from the home crowd, isn`t reflected on the road with Chelsea picking up 6 wins out of the last 7 fixtures.
Speaking about the problem that playing at home has become, our central defender Gary Cahill has remarked, to the media,
“Normally we are unbelievably hard to beat at Stamford Bridge and we have been getting results.”
“We just have to be consistent in what we are doing. Sometimes we are playing fantastic stuff like against Southampton and Everton – but then we chuck it away against QPR and now Swansea.”
Three points, up in the Potteries, will be very welcome.
Stoke Team News:
Tony Pulis, continuing to over-achieve with Stoke, has no fresh injury worries going into this intriguing clash.
With regards to his starting eleven, Manchester United target, Asmir Begovic will return to the keepers role whilst there may also be room in the starting eleven for the dangerous Kenwynne Jones.
Player to watch: Peter Crouch
Ideally suited to the Stoke way of playing, all elbows, arms and legs, Crouch will be a handful for the Chelsea defence. Let`s hope the former international won`t upset his Chelsea supporting dad by getting on the score-sheet.
Chelsea Team News:
Rafa Benitez takes his squad to Stoke with some concerns. John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses are away on international duty, with Nigeria, at the African Cup of Nations whilst, on the injury front, Chelsea are still likely to be without the injured Petr Cech.
John Terry, who made his long awaited comeback in an U21 fixture, against Fulham, on Thursday evening, has declared that he is ready to return to the fray but it may be a game too soon for our captain.
Up front, the Chelsea support will be praying that Rafa opts to start with Demba Ba rather than the lethargic Fernando Torres.
Here at Vital Chelsea we half expect Rafa to go with the following starting eleven:-
Turnbull, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Cole, Luiz, Lampard, Mata, Hazard, Oscar and Ba.
Player to watch: Branislav Ivanovic
Two horrendous horrors, in midweek, against Swansea have put the pressure firmly on the Serbian centre-back to produce a match winning defensive performance. We`re hoping that the tough centre-back rallies to the cause and is able to hold at bay a Stoke City side that will pose an aerial threat like no other side can.
Match Facts & Stats
Although Stoke haven`t been beaten at the Britannia Stadium since February 2012, Chelsea do have a more than decent record against them.
In the last 8 fixtures we`ve won 5 and drawn 3. In fact if you want to know when Stoke last beat Chelsea on home soil, it was at the Victoria Ground on 5th April 1975. It was a bad season for Chelsea as we ended up being relegated.
Stoke`s recent form is good though with the Potteries side having only lost 1 in the last 11 that being against Manchester City. In the other 10 fixtures they`ve won 5 and drawn 5.
Our officials for this encounter are:-
Referee – Andre Marriner
Assistant – R. West
Assistant – S. Massey
Fourth Official – G. Eltringham
There`s no doubting that the Britannia Stadium is a tricky place to visit, Stoke haven`t los ton home soil since February 2012. The match will see a contrast of two styles, Chelsea will try to move the ball around sweetly whilst a robust Stoke side will go route one, getting the ball into the penalty area as often as possible. One concern we do have is whether our ‘small` players will be able to cope with the physicality of their Stoke counterparts. Let`s hope they do otherwise Saturday could be one of those days we`re slowly becoming accustomed to. But, I`m keeping the faith and going for a narrow Chelsea victory, by the odd goal in three.
Next up is a Premier League fixture, on Wednesday, against Southampton at Stamford Bridge followed by a visit from Arsenal the following Sunday.