The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs Stoke

Premier League | Stamford Bridge | Sat 4 Apr | 5:30pm

Billed as

A home banker for the champions-elect.

CHELSEA FORM

  • Hull 2-3 Chelsea (Prem)
  • Chelsea 1-1 So’ton (Prem)
  • Chelsea 2-2 PSG (CL)
  • West Ham 0-1 Chelsea (Prem)
  • Chelsea 2-0 Spurs (LC)

STOKE FORM

  • Stoke 1-2 Palace (Prem)
  • WBA 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
  • Stoke 2-0 Everton (Prem)
  • Stoke 1-0 Hull (Prem)
  • Villa 1-2 Stoke (Prem)

The lowdown

Chelsea could have a new challenger by the time they kick-off on Saturday teatime; Arsenal’s lunchtime tussle against Liverpool giving the Gunners an opportunity to close within four points of top spot. However, this weekend is still very much advantage west London, with the Blues able to stretch their lead over Manchester City to nine points before Manuel Pellegrini’s men make the potentially tricky trip to Crystal Palace on Monday night.

The league leaders have made heavy weather of pretty much all of their matches since stuffing Swansea 5-0 on January 17; their most recent outing at the KC Stadium being a case in point.

Two goals up in nine minutes, the leaders conceded twice in the space of three minutes following a clanger from Thibaut Courtois, with substitute Loic Remy left to spare the Blues’ blushes.

Chelsea have still only lost one game in 16 – to Bradford – and although fatigue has set in for a team that has seen little rotation, few doubt that they’ll cough and splutter their way over the line.

SEE ALSO Rotation, Rotation, Rotation: Why Mourinho might have caused Chelsea’s Champions League failure

That task will become even more straightforward should they secure expected victories over Stoke and QPR – Manchester United and Arsenal lie in wait immediately after – and history suggests the Potters shouldn’t make life too difficult for John Terry & Co.

Stoke haven’t left Stamford Bridge with so much as a draw from any of their eight trips to SW6 since promotion to the top flight, and haven’t scored in their last seven visits since Rory Delap’s effort in 2009.

Potters boss Mark Hughes, who lifted the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup during three seasons as a Blue, hasn’t fared much better as a visiting manager to the Bridge either.

Nine trips as boss of Stoke, QPR, Fulham, Man City and Blackburn have yielded just one Robbie Savage-inspired goalless draw (in 2007) and eight defeats; the cumulative score 23-3 in favour of the Londoners.

Consecutive wins over Aston Villa, Hull and Everton have been tempered slightly by back-to-back defeats against West Brom and Crystal Palace. But Stoke can start afresh following the international break, comfortably sat in 10th place with spirits high after Hughes extended his contract until 2018.

Team news

Diego Costa’s latest hamstring twang, which forced him to miss Spain’s recent internationals, could see him sidelined this weekend, with Petr Cech (muscle problem) and John Obi Mikel (knee) also set to miss out.

The Potters will hope to have Marc Muniesa back in contention, but Chelsea loanee Victor Moses is ineligible. Bojan Krkic and Peter Odemwingie are long-term treatment table attendees.

SEE ALSO Bojan: I'll return for Stoke next season better than ever

Player to watch: Charlie Adam (Stoke)

The Scotland international's ability to unsettle the metronomic Nemanja Matic and supply dangerous deliveries from set-pieces will likely be key to the Potters stopping their rot of Stamford Bridge failures.

Even in defeat to Palace, Adam created the most chances of the game (6), won the most tackles (4), hurled 18 crosses into the box and completed the most attacking-third passes of any Stoke player (10/25).

And having already won at the Etihad Stadium this season, Adam is hopeful they can find a chink in the Blues’ armour, saying: “Hopefully we can cause them problems. We always make a point before the games of looking for the weaknesses in teams and what we can exploit.” Probably a good idea.

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

  • Stoke 0-2 Chelsea (PL, Dec 14)
  • Chelsea 3-0 Stoke (PL, Apr 14)
  • Chelsea 1-0 Stoke (FAC, Jan 14)
  • Stoke 3-2 Chelsea (PL, Dec 13)
  • Stoke 0-4 Chelsea (PL, Jan 13)

The managers

Mourinho has been instructing his squad to ‘keep calm and win football matches’ – or words to that effect – with the finishing line in sight. “Like the great manager he is, he has told us what we need to do now, which is just to stay calm,” Diego Costa revealed. “He’s right because everything depends on us now. We know that the Premier League is complicated. It’s not easy so we know we have to improve. We all need to dig in and give something extra because we have this title in our hands and we can’t let it slip away.”

Sparky’s targeting silverware of a different kind, having extended his deal at the Britannia Stadium outfit – FA Cup finalists in 2011. “My view is that there are only so many trophies that we can realistically go all the way in, so why limit your chances,” he said. “You may as well have a real go and see how far you can go.”

Hughes’ comments certainly kept the hierarchy happy, with chairman Peter Coates full of praise for the Potters boss. “Mark has aspirations to get higher up the table and we want to support him in doing that,” he said. “It's great to have him feel like he can achieve progression here and it’s nice to hear him say it. We are really pleased with the progress we have made and we're delighted with Mark's attitude towards that.”

Facts and figures

  • Stoke have scored 97 goals away from home in Premier League history.
  • Chelsea have won 10 and lost just 1 of the 13 Premier League meetings with Stoke.
  • Peter Crouch has scored just 7 Premier League goals this season, but they have won Stoke 9 points.
    More FFT Stats Zone facts

FourFourTwo prediction

A spiky repeat of December’s battle at the Britannia. 2-0 Chelsea.

Chelsea vs Stoke LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone