Chelsea vs Stoke Preview

Chelsea and Stoke face off today at Stamford Bridge, with the game kicking off at 3pm. Chelsea are 3rd in the league, with a chance of leapfrogging Man United into second, while Stoke are 13th.

Chelsea are sitting nicely in 3rd at the minute, and will be hoping to move into 2nd ahead of Man United, who play in the late kick off against Southampton. They don’t have a chance of winning the league obviously, but finishing in the top 4 and having a good run in the cups will be their ambition for the season now. They’re currently five points ahead of Spurs and Arsenal, who are 5th and 6th respectively, and will be looking to turn that gap to eight points as neither of those sides play today. I don’t think they will have too much of an issue with finishing in the top four to be honest, as they look a good bit better than Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal, but they’ll need to keep winning games as a little slip up could see them caught by the chasing pack. It’s all tight enough around there, and they need to show some of the form that won them the league last season. They haven’t hit those heights at all so far, but they haven’t been terrible either. They won’t want recent speculation linking Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois with moves away to trouble them too much.

Antonio Conte spoke about Eden Hazard, and said: “I’m proud to have him in my team, in my squad, and I’m very happy to work with him.

“He’s a really good guy and has a lot of space for improvement, to become one of the best players in the world. But, I repeat, on this issue: this must be a private conversation between the player, the player’s agent and the club.”

Chelsea don’t seem to have any new injury concerns, but Antonio Conte may have one eye on Chelsea’s game against Arsenal on Wednesday. Andreas Christensen missed their last game through illness, and could miss this one too. The out of favour David Luiz is still out injured.

Stoke haven’t found any form at all for far this season, and are still yet to register back to back wins. Their last two games – a draw against Huddersfield and a win against West Brom – is the second best run of form they have managed. They had a win and two draws together earlier in the season, which is the best they have strung together so far. There has been a lot of pressure of Mark Hughes lately, and the results haven’t gone his way. They’re 13th in the league, which wouldn’t normally be seen as too bad for Stoke, but they’re only three points clear of Bournemouth in 18th. I think avoiding defeat would be a huge result for them today, but I’d be shocked if they could manage that. When these sides met earlier in the season, Stoke were hammered 4-0 at home, and it could easily be more of the same today.

Mark Hughes said:

We were frustrated more than anything a few weeks ago, but we have had two games over Christmas and picked up four points, which is a decent return.

We have a real sense of determination within the group, and we have seen that over the past week or two.

We are ticking along again now, we need to get over one point a game, which is what we have always done, so to a large degree we are back on an even keel.

We have some decent games coming up, so we feel we will be more than OK in the New Year.

We are obviously desperate to get a number of key players, who are missing through injury, back to full fitness, but once we do that then I am confident of enjoying a really productive second half of the season.

Stoke have a number of injury concerns, with their defence being the biggest issue for Mark Hughes. Glen Johnson, Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi are all out, while Kurt Zouma is ineligible because he is on loan from Chelsea. Erik Pieters may return for the Potters.

Personally, the only way I can see this going is the way of the home side. Chelsea should have far too much for Stoke to deal with, but team selection from Antonio Conte will be interesting. Even if he does decide to rest a few key players, they should be able to win this one comfortably enough. Stoke will need to defend really well, and take their chances when they come, but I would be shocked if they can manage to get anything from this game.

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