How Stoke can dent Chelsea's title bid at Stamford Bridge
The key tactical battle in this contest will be taking place in the mind of Mark Hughes, whose recent heavy defeats against top-four opposition were characterised by an attacking openness and desire to match their opponents. A return to the deep-lying, patient style that saw them win 1-0 at the Etihad last November could counter Chelsea's over-reliance on central attacks.
In the 4-1 and 3-0 defeats to Manchester City and Arsenal respectively (their last two games against top-four sides), Stoke held a surprisingly high line, amassing 54% and 48% possession.
Against Manuel Pellegrini's team, the Potters' attempts to attack their opponents led to several early shots at Joe Hart's goal, but it ultimately cost them as Sergio Aguero broke the deadlock on the counter.
This tactical naivety was surprising considering Stoke's strategic successes in the 1-0 reversal back in 2014, when Hughes instructed his team to sit extremely deep. That day, Stoke ended the match with 33% possession and just 7 shots on goal, having frustrated Man City with a more reserved approach.
Note how much deeper Stoke's back four were in the 1-0 away victory compared to the 4-1 home defeat.
Stoke fans will be hoping that this system returns at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. It may not be pretty, but there is clear evidence that it's effective. In Newcastle's 2-1 victory over Chelsea in December, Alan Pardew's team held 34% possession, while Southampton enjoyed only 39% in their 1-1 draw in west London.
The majority of Southampton's and Newcastle's defensive actions took place deep in their own half.
Of course, possession statistics alone are not proof of a particular strategy, but the growing trend of teams collecting points at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea have drawn three of their last four home league games, having won the previous 10) is indicative of a tactical shift that exposes the Blues' weaknesses.
Using inverted wingers and relying heavily on central midfielder Cesc Fabregas for creativity, Chelsea can be accused of over-reliance in central areas. It is for this reason that deep-lying, compact defences have found success in the last two months; play in a narrow shell formation, and the Blues struggle to break through.
Hughes could learn a lot from analysing the recent successes of Southampton and Newcastle, but more importantly by re-watching the tape from his team's famous victory at the Etihad Stadium. It is this tactic that, with a bit of luck, could put a small dent in Chelsea's title challenge.