The last Premier League match-up before Christmas, and hearing your older relatives complain how football isn’t like the old days, we’re treated to a match that offered up an upset last season as Chelsea face a difficult trip to the Britannia Stadium to face Stoke City.
Stoke have had an up-and-down season so far with good performances and results (against Arsenal at home and Tottenham away for example) mixed in with disappointments such as their home defeats to Burnley and Sunderland. With a victory, draw and defeat in December Mark Hughes will be hoping Stoke can hit some consistent form soon and keep distance between themselves and the clubs in the bottom 3. The festive period sees Stoke face Everton, West Brom and Manchester United so any points they pick up against Chelsea would be valuable.
The constant talk of going the season unbeaten ended a couple of weeks ago after Newcastle defeated Chelsea at St James Park, and it may be a blessing in disgust. While players say they do not listen to such comments, after winning so many games in a row, complacency can enter the minds of the players and see them drop a gear. Manchester City’s win on Saturday means both teams now have the same number of points and with the quick succession of games over the next fortnight the table can change quickly.
Chelsea’s use of the wide areas of the pitch is one of their strong points as they look to stretch apart and attack the space or solitary defender. This will mean a busy match for Stoke’s full-backs who will have to judge when to sit back and cover alongside supporting the winger in front of him in attack.
The work rate of Phil Bardsley will be important then for Stoke and the Scottish right-back has done well since his move to the club in the summer. Making more tackles than any other Stoke player with 42, Bardsley will need to be on the top of his game on Monday night.
A quick turn of pace to ghost past opposition defenders – something that has happened on 73 occasions this campaign – Hazard is one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League.
Scoring 6 goals in the league this season and getting 2 assists from 39 created chances, in tricky away matches like on Monday night, the Belgian international can do something special in the blink of an eye to help win the match.
- Stoke have failed to score in five of the last six league games against Chelsea.
- Stoke have conceded a goal in each of their last 10 Premier League games.
- Eden Hazard has made more successful passes in the attacking third (450) than any other player in the league.
Bojan has recovered after being withdrawn with a knock last weekend against Crystal Palace and is fit for Monday night. Stephen Ireland suffered a blow to his knee in training and is a doubt for the match.
Courtois is likely to return to the Starting XI after missing the last few matches with a muscle injury, as well as Fabregas who was suspended last weekend. Zouma and Drogba – who both went off against Derby – will be available.
Football under the lights always increases the atmosphere and the Britannia can be rocking when everyone is vocal. If that is the case on Monday night, it will be a difficult away trip for Chelsea but Mourinho would have learnt from last season when they lost and make sure this season’s better side doesn’t repeat that result.
Stoke 1 Chelsea 2