League leaders Chelsea travel to face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium as the Premier League is preparing for a mini-hiatus, what with the final international break of this campaign.
Stoke City sit ninth in the league with 36 points on board, four shy of eighth placed West Bromwich Albion. The Potters have recovered from a dispiriting 4-0 loss at White Hart Lane to pick up four points from the following two games – a significant 2-0 win against struggling Middlesbrough and an impressive draw against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at the Etihad.
Mark Hughes’ side are well clear of any potential relegation battle but also frustratingly, look like they have hit a ceiling in terms of how high they can finish come the end of the season, meaning it will be interesting to see what kind of attitude they will go into this game with, against champions-elect Chelsea.
This is a big game for Chelsea, especially given the position they are in the league. The Blues recently have been shaky on the road by their high standards – only winning two of their last four games away from home, including a draw against Sean Dyche’s Burnley. But a similar slip-up before the international break could take some of the momentum that Antonio Conte’s side have built over the course of what has been a spectacular season.
They will go into this game in high spirits after sealing their progression to the FA Cup semi-final after beating Mourinho’s Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. With some of their direct rivals playing against each other in the coming weeks, the visitors should be aiming to extend their lead further to give themselves enough cushion in the run-in ahead.
Stephen Ireland and Jack Butland are both out for the Potters, while Mame Biram Diouf and Glen Johnson are doubts but Hughes will be boosted by the return of Xherdan Shaqiri, who has recovered from a calf strain.
Victor Moses is Antonio Conte’s only injury concern ahead of Saturday’s trip to Stoke. Cesc Fabregas will hope for a recall, although Conte could continue with the more conservative Nemanja Matic in midfield.
- Stoke are undefeated in their last 8 home matches (Premier League).
- Chelsea are undefeated in 19 of their last 21 matches against Stoke in all competitions.
- Chelsea have won 18 of their last 21 matches (Premier League).
- Stoke have seen under 2.5 goals in their last 3 home matches against Chelsea in all competitions.
Erik Pieters (Stoke City)
Erik Pieters has been the most reliable member of an atypical Stoke City back four under Mark Hughes this campaign. The Potters, in recent weeks, barring the Spurs result, have looked solid at the back. Pieters, one of the first names on the team-sheet, has started 27 games for Stoke this season and his defensive contribution has been very high as usual – averaging 3.1 tackles per game, highest of any Stoke City player in 16/17 so far. On a day when Chelsea will have a go at them needing a win, Pieters will need to be at his best to give the home side a chance to stay in the game long enough for the attackers to hurt the opposition.
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Kante is widely regarded as the best midfielder in the Premier League and he only went on to enhance his reputation by putting in a flawless performance against French compatriot Paul Pogba and Man United in the 1-0 win in the FA Cup 6th Round. He scored the winning goal, but it was his diligence and well documented ability to cover ground for two players that drew all the attention and plaudits – all of which will be invaluable for Chelsea in the final eleven games of the campaign, starting at the Bet365 stadium.
A routine victory for the champions-elect laced with grit and ruthlessness.
Stoke City 0-1 Chelsea