Chelsea are hosting Stoke City ahead of 2018 in a match that they will be looking to take all three points from. Although the title has gone for the Blues in all likelihood, they are now only one point behind Manchester United and Antonio Conte will be determined to finish above Jose Mourinho’s team. There was some heat between the two managers last season and given the United manager’s history at Stamford Bridge, it will be sweet for all involved with the club to finish above him. For the visitors, they have picked up in recent weeks and steered clear of the relegation zone, but they remain firmly entrenched in a battle at the bottom of the division.
Since the Blues suffered a disappointing loss to West Ham United, they have won three and drawn once in the Premier League. These results have secured them a position in the top four as they are five points clear of Tottenham in 5th. It is far from a guarantee that they will remain in the Champions League positions, but they have one of the better squads and a manager that is used to delivering success. This match will be earmarked as one they must win ahead of a more difficult run of fixtures in January.
Stoke City are firmly in the midst of a relegation battle, but four points from their last two matches have seen them move into a safer position. They are in 13th position, but they are only three points above the bottom three. If results don’t go for them this weekend, the table will have a completely different complexion heading into the new year. There were doubts about Mark Hughes as manager in previous weeks, but results have started to improve and he will have earned more time. January is gearing up to be a huge month for the Potters. They will want a strong performance to take into 2018 and a good result if possible.
- The Blues have found their defensive form again heading into the new year as they currently have the second-best defence in the Premier League. They have conceded only 14 times in 20 matches.
- Stoke City have the best attacking record in the bottom half of the Premier League, having scored 23 goals from their opening 20 matches.
The last few weeks have been frustrating for Eden Hazard as he has been creating chances and caused problems for the opposition. However, that hasn’t translated to goals and assists for the Belgian international. Since his man-of-the-match performance against Newcastle United at the beginning of the month, he has failed to contribute a single goal or an assist in the Premier League. This will be an area of concern for Antonio Conte as his side aren’t scoring as many goals as he would like and that is making games nervier than they have to be. As the main attacking player in the Chelsea team, there is more expected from Hazard and he needs to start turning good performances into end product. Against Brighton, the 26-year-old couldn’t have done much more. He attempted four shots, made three key passes and completed four dribbles. It was an impressive performance and if he delivers a similar one against Stoke, he should be able to make a meaningful contribution in the final third.
The Welsh international has been the standout player for Stoke City during the last two matches, as he has started to contribute in the final third. Although this isn’t his main responsibility, he is capable of adding to the Potters’ attack and it is a useful weapon for Mark Hughes to wield. He has scored and contributed two assists in the last two matches. As the form man in the Stoke team, he is a player that Chelsea will need to keep a close eye on. The Blues have excellent midfield players in N’Golo Kante, Tieumoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas. If the visitors are going to take anything from the game, they will need to compete in the central areas. Allen is key to their chances of doing that. Against Huddersfield, the former Liverpool player showed both sides to his game. He was useful in attack, as he completed two dribbles and made three key passes. However, it was tenacity that was most impressive as he won seven tackles and made a further one interception. The away side will need him to be at his best in both halves of the pitch if they are to take anything from this fixture.
The home side are hopeful that Andreas Christensen will be back from injury to take his place in the defence in place of Gary Cahill, who in turn will return to the bench. David Luiz remains absent with a knee injury.
Mark Hughes is going to face a defensive selection issue at Stamford Bridge. Kurt Zouma is unavailable to play against his parent club, while Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi are both out injured. Erik Pieters could be back to play a part for the visitors.
The defensive problems faced by Stoke City mean that Chelsea are overwhelming favourites to win this match. It could be the perfect occasion to give confidence to the Blues’ attackers as there will be an opportunity to score goals against a makeshift opposition back four. Although the champions have been far from their fluent best in recent weeks, they have been able to churn out results and they should have enough to overcome a resurgent Potters.
Chelsea 4-0 Stoke City