Previews: Stoke next in firing line for Chelsea

LONDON - Chelsea have begun the defence of their Premier League title like a fizzy-pop fuelled teenager at the controls of his Playstation.

West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic have played the role of compliant little brother perfectly so far, slinking away crestfallen after 6-0 drubbings and next in the firing line for some punishment are struggling Stoke City on Saturday.

Carlo Ancelotti's side have notched an astonishing 29 unanswered goals in five league matches, including their charge to the title in May, and while the Italian knows the fantasy football will make way for reality sooner or later, Stoke look ripe for picking.

Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka account for eight of Chelsea's 12 goals so far this season and that trio will have their fingers poised on the shoot button against win-less Stoke, a team the champions thrashed 7-0 at home in May.

While the strikers have been gaining the plaudits, midfielder John Obi Mikel has also made a strong start, providing a solid base for Ancelotti's marauders to drive on.

He is clearly enjoying life under Ancelotti - a coach more accustomed to the footballing chess of Serie A but who has turned Chelsea into a vibrant attacking outfit.

"We know we're not going to score six every game, if you manage one and get three points it's all we need, but at the moment it is enjoyable to be a part of it and playing and I hope it keeps going," Mikel told the club's website.

Chelsea's total of 12 goals is a Premier League record for the first two games but they are not the only sharp-shooters in the middle of a free-scoring start to the season.

Arsenal dissected Blackpool's fragile defences six times at the Emirates last weekend and will hope to maintain that form at Blackburn Rovers in Saturday's early kick-off.


Newcastle United also joined the "Six Club" last Sunday when they crushed Aston Villa. England manager Fabio Capello will be hearted by the form of Arsenal winger Theo Walcott and Newcastle's giant number nine Andy Carroll, who both scored hat-tricks last weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur's Peter Crouch was another striker who hit three, firing his side on Wednesday into the Champions League group stage.

Manchester City's England contingent, particularly new signing James Milner and Gareth Barry, also sparkled as the big-spenders signalled their intent with a 3-0 defeat of Liverpool on Monday.

Tottenham face Wigan, who they beat 9-1 at home last season, on Saturday while Manchester City face a testing trip to Sunderland on Sunday.

Manchester United, one of seven clubs on four points, take on West Ham United at Old Trafford on Saturday evening.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be eager for Wayne Rooney to join the goal-scoring circus sooner rather than later.

The England man has not scored since March and will need to rediscover his spark if United are to keep pace with leaders Chelsea and resist the challenge of Arsenal and Manchester City.

Rooney did not play in the 2-2 draw at Fulham last weekend but with Michael Owen poised for a return, Mexican Javier Hernandez settling in and Dimitar Berbatov offering his usual dash of style, United still have plenty of attacking options.

"He's made a big impression," said United winger Ryan Giggs of Hernandez. "He's still learning the game, not only on the pitch but off it too.

"He's a bubbly character and he's great to have around the dressing room."

West Ham, along with Wigan and Stoke, are searching for their first points of the season and with Chelsea up next after the visit to Old Trafford, the Hammers may be waiting some time.

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