April has arrived and crunch time is upon us. There will be twists and turns on a weekly basis in the Premier League at both the top and the bottom. Only one of these sides is fighting for something this season as Chelsea continue to lead the title race, while Stoke are sitting in mid table with no threat of relegation and little chance of European qualification. Jose Mourinho’s side have been underwhelming for the past couple of months, dropping points at home and getting knocked out of both the FA Cup and the Champions League. Stoke have reached 40 points and have once again secured their Premier League status very easily. They will want to come to Stamford Bridge and give a good performance, showing everybody that they can pick up points against the big sides.
Chelsea have dropped points in their last two home matches against Southampton and Burnley, which will boost Stoke going into this weekend. Jose Mourinho will be disappointed that his side haven’t progressed further in the Champions League, but winning the league would represent significant progress and would be his first major trophy since winning La Liga in 2012. It would be an important landmark in his second reign and give the Chelsea squad something to build on. It could even be the start of a dominating era as the club look like they will be competing in the major competitions for the foreseeable future.
Stoke are secure in mid table with a gap of six points separating them from the bottom half. They may take their foot off the gas for the remaining matches as they will be happy with a top half finish, but that won’t take away from their successful season. Stoke made some good signings in the summer and the likes of Bojan and Mame Biram Diouf have improved the side’s style of play. Mark Hughes’ has had a revolutionary effect over his tenure to date. As a result, Stoke no longer flirt with relegation and they are starting to become a lot more competitive in every match. There are doubts about how much further Stoke can go, but they are in the right hands going forward.
In the previous meeting, Chelsea managed to win the match away from home 2-0. John Terry and Cesc Fabregas managed to score the goals on that occasion. Stoke played well and matched Chelsea on the pitch throughout the fixture. In the corresponding fixture last season, Chelsea ran out comfortable 3-0 winners, with Mo Salah, Frank Lampard and Willian getting on the scoresheet. Only one of those three will be playing this weekend and highlights how the West Londoners have changed over the last 12 months.
- Chelsea haven’t lost in their last 9 league fixtures, having only lost twice this season. Although they haven’t gone far in Europe, they have dominated domestically and it would take a huge fall for them not to lift the trophy next year.
- Stoke have been good defensively recently and have only conceded four times in their last five matches. If they continue to defend as well this weekend then they could frustrate Chelsea into their third successive home draw.
Diego Costa is a doubt for the weekend after contracting a hamstring injury in Chelsea’s last match against Hull. If he does miss out, Loic Remy could be in pole position to start at the weekend as he has scored a crucial goal in that match. He hasn’t had as much game time as he would have liked since moving to Stamford Bridge, but Remy has been impressive when he has received opportunities. Last season, the Blues didn’t have the strength up front that they would have liked. However this season, the competition has been fierce with Diego Costa, Didier Drogba and Loic Remy all playing their part throughout the campaign. Remy offers some unique qualities, as he is fast and has very good movement, which allows him to make runs in behind defences and play off the last defender. He has an incredible eye for goal and gets in the right positions on a consistent basis. He has scored a goal every 161.1 minutes throughout his Premier League career, which is an excellent ratio for a player considered only third choice at Chelsea. The Frenchman will be keen to impress over the remaining matches and take any chances that come his way as he may be looking at the summer as a potential opportunity to move again to secure first team football.
Ryan Shawcross has become one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League since Stoke were promoted several years ago. His reputation is the only thing preventing him from stepping up to a bigger club and has certainly played a role in England ignoring him for a number of years. Shawcross is one of the few defenders capable of going toe to toe with Diego Costa physically and if the Spaniard is passed fit, the Stoke captain could have a huge role to play. His side has been impressive defensively in recent weeks and the captain has been central to that success. The defender is very good aerially, which is highlighted by his aerial duel win rate of 72.2%, showing that he is rarely beaten in the air. His aerial abilities are also very useful from set pieces and Shawcross has scored twice this season. Stoke may struggled to break Chelsea down and may need to revert to the Stoke of old and try to make an impact from set plays. If they do this, Shawcross is key.
As mentioned above, Diego Costa is a doubt with a hamstring problem and Chelsea may not risk him from the start. That will leave either Didier Drogba or Loic Remy as options to replace him. John Obi Mikel may be available again , while Petr Cech is unlikely to be in the squad as he is currently nursing a muscular problem.
Victor Moses will be unavailable against his parent club. Meanwhile Marc Muniesa could return from injury this weekend. Peter Odemwingie and Bojan are both injured and will not be available for the foreseeable future.
Chelsea are going into this weekend as favourites, but Stoke won’t be pushovers and they will be going to the capital with little pressure and that can sometimes result in some excellent performances. Stoke are a tough side to break down and they will be dangerous from set pieces, but Chelsea are also very good defensively, therefore they will be hoping for a clean sheet and three points. It’s important that they win this weekend as their home record has been sketchy of late and it’s normally the thing Mourinho can rely on. Diego Costa missing will be a blow, but they have strength in depth in their squad. I think they will win, but it won’t be easy.
Chelsea 2-0 Stoke City
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