The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs Chelsea
A shot at redemption for Jonathan Walters.
So much for the New Stoke. Just two weeks ago we were praising Mark Hughes’ side for their patient passing and attacking fluency, which had brought them 12 goals in five games. But after being thumped 4-0 at Goodison Park, the Potters failed to find the target again on Wednesday; their goalless home draw against Cardiff possibly the most uninspiring match of the Premier League season so far.
- Stoke 0-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Everton 4-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 2-0 S'land (Prem)
- Swansea 3-3 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-1 So'ton (Prem)
- S'land 3-4 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 3-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Basel 1-0 Chelsea (CL)
- West Ham 0-3 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-2 WBA (Prem)
Hughes deserves credit for trying to add an extra dimension to Stoke’s play, but dismissing all of predecessor Tony Pulis’ methods is a dangerous strategy. The occasional cross into the box wouldn’t do any harm now, would it Sparky? Pulis’ new club Crystal Place demonstrated as much on Tuesday night, their winner coming from a fine Barry Bannan delivery.
Twenty four hours later at the Britannia Stadium, just one of Peter Crouch’s 22 aerial duels took place inside the opposition area. Isolated and frustrated, at least the 6ft 7in striker can console himself in the fact that Movember’s finally over.
If Stoke needed any more reason to “GET IT IN THE £@#*$?! MIXER!” a bit more come Saturday, they would have got it from watching Chelsea on Match of the Day in midweek. Chelsea’s defending from set-pieces in their 4-3 win at Sunderland was, in the words of Jose Mourinho, “ridiculous”, Eden Hazard saving the Blues from two days on the naughty step with a masterly display. Sure, it was exciting, but Mourinho would far prefer a 1-0 win on Saturday over a repeat of that.
Blues fans at the Britannia will no doubt be sarcastically cheering for Walters if he’s back in the Stoke team after his run of 102 consecutive league games came to an end against Cardiff. The striker, who should be available after a minor thigh problem, endured a nightmare in this fixture last season, scoring two headed own goals before missing a penalty in the 4-0 loss. Elsewhere for the Potters, Robert Huth misses the chance to face his former employers with a knee knock.
For the Blues, injured trio Samuel Eto’o (groin), David Luiz (knee) and Oscar (ankle) are all close to returning.
Player to watch: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Luis Suarez rightly made the biggest headlines following an eventful Wednesday night in the Premier League, but up in Wearside Hazard was just as influential. Having bamboozled Craig Gardner to lay on a chipped cross for Frank Lampard to equalise, the Belgian schemer scored two fine individual goals.
Indeed, FFT’s Stats Zone proves this was close to a perfect performance from Hazard: of all 22 players on the field, he had the most shots (5), shots on target (4), attacking-third passes (completing 31/34), chances created (4) and take-ons (12/15). Three days on, it’s another away day against a team in red and white stripes (maybe Mourinho should just tell him he’s facing Sunderland again?)
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 0-4 Chelsea (Prem, Jan 13)
- Chelsea 1-0 Stoke (Prem, Sep 12)
- Chelsea 1-0 Stoke (Prem, Mar 12)
- Stoke 0-0 Chelsea (Prem, Aug 11)
- Stoke 1-1 Chelsea (Prem, Apr 11)
After the Cardiff bore draw, Hughes was honest enough to admit his charges have lost their edge. “In terms of controlling the game I thought we did well, but the top end is a problem for us,” he said.
Home form is another big concern for the Welshman – Stoke have won just two from seven so far this term – but he’ll take some heart from his last match against Chelsea, when his QPR side frustrated the Blues in a goalless draw at Loftus Road in September 2012.
In the opposite dugout, Mourinho is right to have concerns of his own, despite two entertaining comebacks in the space of four days. “In the last six minutes of injury time, if Sunderland had two more corners, they would have won 5-4,” he said post-match at the Stadium of Light.
The Portuguese’s abundance of attacking midfielders means he can get by without a prolific striker, but how he’d love a back-line as watertight as he had with his first Chelsea team (15 goals conceded in 2004/05; 22 the season after). Luiz and Gary Cahill have been particularly prone to lapses in concentration, so don’t be surprised to see Mourinho sign up a new centre-back once the transfer window opens on New Year’s Day – one who’s well-versed in the darker arts of defending. If only Ricardo Carvalho was five years younger, eh, Jose?
Facts and figures
- Stoke have scored just 3 goals in 10 Premier League games against Chelsea, failing to net in the last 4.
More facts at FFT's Stoke vs Chelsea Stats Zone page
Tips and trends
TIPS & TRENDS
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- Stoke have failed to win any of their last 9 home matches against top-six sides, but have picked up 6 draws.
- They have also drawn the first half in 6 of their previous 9 home fixtures against top-six clubs.
- Only Spurs and West Ham are averaging fewer goals per game than Stoke (2.14).
- Chelsea inflicted Stoke’s heaviest defeat at the Britannia last season in a 4-0 reverse.
- The Blues haven’t lost to the Potters in 12 Premier League encounters, but haven’t won 3 consecutive matches in the league since December 2012.
- Chelsea haven’t scored 3 or more goals in 3 consecutive away matches since 2009.
The Londoners' strikers have failed to score an away Premier League goal in 2013.
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Chelsea’s free-scoring midfielders to outshine their team-mates once again. 1-3.