Why Stoke could make Cesc and Eden's Monday night a misery
Stoke's record against accomplished passing units is outstanding. With Potters victories over Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Swansea in mind, Chelsea's visit to the Britannia Stadium looks set to be one of Jose Mourinho's sternest tests yet.
In all of these victories, Stoke sat in deep, compact rows, narrowing the pitch and forcing the opposition to pass the ball aimlessly in front of them (37.6% average possession across these four fixtures). A well-organised unit, they only pressed the ball in the final third and allowed little along the ground to enter the box. With the outstanding Ryan Shawcross (7.4 clearances per match) and Marc Wilson (7.6 clearances) at centre-back, they confidently defended any high balls hurled in desperation.
Note how deep and narrow the majority of Stoke's defensive work takes place.
Usually capable of picking teams apart with their intricate short passing, both Spurs and Arsenal struggled to thread the ball into dangerous areas. Note how frequently they attempted to work the ball into the channels, only to pass the ball back again; few sides attempt to beat Stoke's defenders in the air.
As part of this defensive strategy, Stoke severely limited the impact of key playmakers by denying space for the killer ball.
Note how infrequently David Silva and Gylfi Sigurdsson created shooting opportunities inside the box (light blue arrows).
Chelsea can expect a very similar set-up this weekend, making for an intriguing contest that will test the Blues' patience. However, with 12 different goalscorers this season, Jose Mourinho's men will be confident that the quality of his squad will be enough to overcome Stoke. It'll be Eden Hazard (2.4 key passes per game) and Cesc Fabregas (3.3) the Portuguese schemer will be relying upon.
With Diego Costa in attack they certainly possess aerial firepower (12 headed goals is the second-highest amount in the division), and what's more, a remarkable 40% of Chelsea's assists (14) have been through balls. Fabregas and Hazard might still fancy their chances of threading through Stoke's fortress.
Fabregas and Hazard are capable of terrorising the opposition, the former providing intricate through balls while the latter skips past defenders in the box to create openings.
Chelsea are usually relatively successful in the air, but Glenn Whelan and Shawcross will give Costa & Co. a real battle on Monday night.
Of course, Mark Hughes may see those statistics as weaknesses, and an over-reliance on goalscoring techniques that his Stoke side can easily nullify; 40% of their goals conceded have been from long shots, and 0% from within the six-yard box. It could be a frustrating night for Jose.