Chelsea welcome Stoke City to Stamford Bridge for Saturday’s Premier League game, safe in the knowledge that the season has started in the best possible way. Two league games played, two 6-0 wins, and – along with QPR and Torquay – one of just three sides in English football to have recorded maximum points from games played so far.
Stoke, on the other hand, have played two, lost two, scoring once each time. In recent seasons – since Stoke’s promotion back into the top flight – games between the two have often been tight. A couple of 90th minute winners kept fans on the edge of their seats, but the way the two sides have started the season may instead mean that we see a game similar to last season’s meeting at the Bridge, when Chelsea romped to a 7-0 win. The fact that Stoke are a huge 28/1 with some bookmakers to win on Saturday – while a 6-0 Chelsea win can be found at 14/1 with others – speaks volumes ahead of the 3pm kick-off.
Promoted in 2008, Stoke City have been a shining example of how to sustain and remain in the Premier League, even if their style isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Playing to their strengths, complete with bustling target man and lofted balls into the box, Stoke are deadly from set-pieces and often overpower sides with ease, substituting style and panache for brute force and dogged determination. Finishing 12th and 11th in their two seasons in the Premier League, Stoke have easily fought off the threat of relegation. However, it is their home form which has been key to their modest success, and they have won just six away games from a possible 39 since 2008, scoring 26 goals in the process.
Again looking to stay up and perhaps establish themselves as a top ten side, Stoke made some shrewd signings in the summer transfer window, sealing the signatures of the likes of goalkeeper Carlo Nash from Everton, and strikers Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters, from Sunderland and Ipswich respectively. Jones will be missing from the squad on Saturday, after picking up an ankle injury on his debut for Stoke. Walters, meanwhile, scored in Stoke’s midweek win over Shrewsbury in the League Cup, along with supposed one-time Chelsea target Tuncay.
Also in Stoke’s ranks are goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, another player linked with the Blues and currently at the centre of a ‘strike’ storm after allegedly refusing to play for the club in the hope of a move away from the Staffordshire club, and defender Robert Huth, a former Blue who is always given a warm welcome at the Bridge.
Chelsea may hand a debut to new signing Ramires, but with only Jose Bosingwa missing from the squad, don’t expect too many changes from the group of players who have started both games so far this season. Michael Mancienne rejoined Wolves on loan this week.
Salomon Kalou was the – perhaps unlikely – hat-trick hero in the aforementioned 7-0 win back in late-April, with Frank Lampard netting a brace and Daniel Sturridge and Florent Malouda completing the rout. That game also saw the last appearance of defender Sam Hutchinson, who sadly was forced to retire this month due to injury.
Chelsea are currently on a six-game unbeaten run against Stoke, with the Blues’ last defeat against the Potters coming back in October 1995. In 83 meetings between the sides, Chelsea have won 37 to Stoke’s 27, but in league meetings at Stamford Bridge, the home side have recorded 19 victories from 36 matches. The first game between the two sides was on 28 August 1922, 88 years ago to the day. Chelsea were 2-1 winners in Stoke that day.
The referee for the match will be Martin Atkinson, who has shown two red cards so far this season. Both came in Liverpool’s 1-1 draw against Arsenal, which saw Atkinson send ex-Blue Joe Cole off on the stroke of half-time. He’s shown eight yellows in those two games too. Atkinson’s presence may be a lucky omen for Chelsea, as the last time he was at the Bridge, he was in charge of last season’s final day 8-0 bonanza against Wigan. In all, he reffed four Chelsea games last season, all at Stamford Bridge, and all resulting in Chelsea wins – against Wigan, Liverpool, Manchester United and Stoke City in an FA Cup tie – as well as clean sheets.
So the pre-match signs are looking good, the form book doesn’t lie, and at 3pm on Saturday afternoon we could be about to witness another massacre, with Stoke City this week’s victims. They definitely have more substance to them than Wigan and West Brom, but if Chelsea are as clinical as they have been in the past couple of weeks, a third consecutive 6-0 may well be the most likely outcome. Could it really happen?