Chelsea continue their travels away from Stamford Bridge with a visit to Mark Hughes’ Stoke, who are struggling to turn performances into points.
‘A new dawn at Stoke!’ were the cries in the summer, but as we reach the first (full) weekend of December the club sits in 14th place and 4 points above the relegation zone. Obviously, changing the playing style at any club takes a period of time that is not always afforded to managers in modern-day football, but Mark Hughes would have hoped for a few more victories in this period. Stoke’s current run of form can read as either 1 defeat in 5 games or 1 win in 5 games.
Renounced as ‘The Happy One’ on his return to Stamford Bridge, Mourinho will certainly be looking to reaffirm that, with Chelsea in 2nd place and 4 points off leaders Arsenal, despite not reaching their full potential on a consistent basis this season. Scoring 3 goals or more in their last 3 Premier League games has seen Chelsea begin to reach the form that will see them fighting for the title come May.
The Stoke number 1 has been linked to clubs such as Manchester City and Arsenal in the past and it’s not surprising to see why. With Stoke struggling to find the back the net regularly this season, the role of goalkeeper can become even more nerve-racking and pivotal in the outcome of the match, Begovic has continued to stay calm though and prove his worth to the Potters.
With 5 clean sheets and a save-to-shot ratio of 64% to his name thus far, Begovic will play an important role in Saturday’s match if Stoke are to get anything from the match.
In my preview before Chelsea’s match against Southampton I noted Hazard was reaching his best form again and his performance against Sunderland proved this further. An excellent performance: the Belgian international scored 2 goals and got a brilliant assist for Lampard’s goal on Wednesday night, that helped Chelsea to their third consecutive win.
The direct and fast dribbling that Hazard possesses has seen him create a chance every 36 minutes (32 in total – 3rd best in the league) and a shot every 82 minutes. The attacking exploits from Hazard in recent weeks will continue to be important for Chelsea over the busy Christmas period as the strikers continue to struggle.
- Stoke have failed to score in 7 league games this season. That’s half of the games played so far.
- None of Chelsea’s strikers – Eto’o, Torres and Ba – have scored away from home in the Premier League in 2013.
- Jose Mourinho is yet to lose a Premier League game in December with Chelsea – (W15, D4).
Stoke City have no new injury doubts, but influential defender Robert Huth is out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury.
Oscar (ankle) and Eto’o (hamstring) are expected to return to the squad for Chelsea, while David Luiz (knee) is expected to miss out for a further week.
While Stoke will put up a brave fight and Chelsea haven’t looked defensively solid – they’ve gone behind in their 3 previous games, Mourinho’s side are picking up 3 points despite not fully convincing and have the ability to win no matter how scrappy the game is.