The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs Stoke
Three points for Chelsea, no? Well, er, no. At least not quite.
So, not all is well in the Jose Mourinho garden, despite sitting in second place and with a few surprisingly temperate days that may indicate a rather pleasant spring is on its way. It’s not often you write that Chelsea – or any Mourinho team, for that matter – have lost two of their last three league games, but such is the current predicament down on the King’s Road.
- PSG 3-1 Chelsea (CL)
- Palace 1-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-0 Galatasaray (CL)
- Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Norwich 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Arsenal (Prem)
Yes, the Blues boss has been telling anyone who’ll listen – and probably a few that aren’t, just for funsies – that Chelsea won’t win the league this season for some time now, but the lack of guile in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace was a worrying sign. The crankiness shown towards referees, ball boys and life in general over the last few is much removed from the ‘Happy One’ last summer or even the smiling 51-year-old around the turn of the year.
The problem of the forwards won’t go away. Samuel Eto’o can only score at home, Fernando Torres’ malaise shows no sign of evaporating and Demba Ba seldom plays.
Talk of wholesale change isn’t far wide of the mark. Without the consistency of Eden Hazard this season, they could be struggling even more than they already are.
That said, the defence – as ever in a Mourinho team – can be relied upon. Chelsea have conceded four goals fewer than the side with the next-best record (Manchester City, perhaps surprisingly) and have shipped only four in their last 10.
Whatever way you look at it, that’s impressive. Gary Cahill and John Terry – last week’s own goal aside – have been consistent at centre-half, as have full-backs Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta. If defences win you leagues, Chelsea might be OK after all.
The visitors to SW6 on Saturday afternoon are looking for a first double over the west Londoners in 40 years after Stoke winger Oussama Assaidi’s last-minute winner secured a 3-2 win at the Britannia back in December. Unbeaten since late February, Mark Hughes’ men have steadily climbed the table just as the relegation vultures were circling around Staffordshire.
Fresh from three successive wins against West Ham, Aston Villa and Hull, the Potters have evolved from one-dimensional brutes under Tony Pulis to a more rounded beast under former Man City boss Hughes. Still direct, there’s greater invention from attacking midfield three Peter Odemwingie, Stephen Ireland and Marko Arnautovic, while Glenn Whelan and Steven N’Zonzi have impressed as anchormen.
Ruthless in beating Villa 4-1, they have the consistency of selection and are well drilled enough to cause problems. Stoke are in prime position to finish inside the top half of the Premier League for the first time.
Ramires completes the last of his three-match ban for an ugly stamp in Chelsea’s defeat at Aston Villa. Eto’o, meanwhile, remains a major doubt with the hamstring injury picked up in the 6-0 rout of Arsenal.
For Stoke, Assaidi is likely to against miss out with a damaged knee, joining long-term absentee Robert Huth.
Key battle: Azpilicueta vs Odemwingie
Like many Chelsea home games, if the Blues defend well, life will be difficult for Stoke. The visitors’ best hope could be in-form forward Odemwingie, who has performed well since January’s move from Cardiff. Pacy and direct, if the Nigerian can force the equally mobile Azpilicueta back and take advantage of a right-footer playing at left-back, Stoke could have some joy. But if the Spaniard can maintain the fine form he’s displayed for much of the season, it could go a long way to ensuring Jose’s unbeaten Stamford Bridge record remains intact.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Chelsea 1-0 Stoke (FAC, Jan 14)
- Stoke 3-2 Chelsea (Prem, Dec 13)
- Stoke 0-4 Chelsea (Prem, Jan 13)
- Chelsea 1-0 Stoke (Prem, Sep 12)
- Chelsea 1-0 Stoke (Prem, Mar 12)
Mourinho and Hughes have often seemed to get on reasonably well, the Special One praising his opposite number’s appointment before December’s league game between the sides. The only manager to beat Mourinho more than once in the Premier League (Hughes’ Blackburn beat the Blues in May 2006), the former Manchester United striker will be hoping to improve on an already impressive record.
Facts and figures
Chelsea have won this fixture to nil in each of the last 4 seasons
Chelsea have won 9 of their last 10 home matches against middle-third teams, with 6 wins to nil and 7 wins by more than 1 goal
Since 2011/12 Stoke have been level at half-time in 10 of their 17 trips to top-six teams (they’ve never been ahead at the break)
Stoke have lost just 1 of their last 9 matches – a 1-0 defeat at Man City – and have beaten both Man United and Arsenal in that time
Mourinho’s bete noir to come back to haunt him again. 1-1.