Chelsea’s latest manager, Roberto Di Matteo, will begin his Premier League career with the club in the same way his predecessor did- with a battle against Tony Pulis’ Stoke. It was back in August that the Villas-Boas ‘era’ kicked-off with a 0-0 draw at the Britannia, at a point in time that most saw Chelsea as one of the front-runners for the title. The big picture this time round is a little less rosy, as the recovering Blues go into the reverse fixture in desperate need of both points and moral. The good news, as the following look back over the past meetings would indicate, is that history will be on our side…..

Chelsea 2-1 Stoke City, Stamford Bridge, Saturday 17th January 2009
With Chelsea struggling for league form under Big Phil Scolari, a 1-0 deficit was turned around as Juliano Belletti’s equaliser and Frank Lampard’s last-minute winner secured one of the more roller coaster victories at the Bridge in recent years. The goal marked Lampard’s 400th Chelsea appearance, though it would not prove to be enough to keep his manager from the exit door, as Scolari was sacked weeks later.

Stoke City 1-2 Chelsea, Britannia Stadium, Saturday 12th September 2009
Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea side began the 2009/10 season in excellent form, and maintained their 100% record with another last-gasp victory against The Potters. Abdoulaye Faye had put the home side in-front, but a stunning leveller from Didier Drogba set the stage for Florent Malouda to drive home the winner late in second-half injury-time.

Chelsea 2-0 Stoke City, Stamford Bridge, Sunday 7th March 2010
Chants of ‘there’s only one England Captain’ were roared around Stamford Bridge as John Terry headed the second goal in this 2-0 FA Cup Quarter-Final triumph, just days after having been stripped of the national team armband by Fabio Capello. Lampard, who also set up Terry’s goal, had earlier opened the scoring with a deflected first-half strike. The win meant that Chelsea would meet Aston Villa in the Wembley Semi-Final.

Chelsea 7-0 Stoke City, Stamford Bridge, Sunday 25th April, 2010
Chelsea’s title run-in gathered pace with this seven-goal demolition, as Salamon Kalou bagged a hat-trick in what was undoubtedly the best performance of his career at the club thus far. Lampard got himself a brace, and Danny Sturridge and Malouda completed the scoring on the day. This would have been the biggest winning-margin of the campaign, were it not for the 8-0 destruction of Wigan Athletic in West London just weeks later, which clinched the Premier League title on the final day of the season.

Chelsea 2-0 Stoke City, Stamford Bridge, Saturday 28th August 2010
In an early-season run of fixtures that saw Chelsea continue their sensational form from the previous campaign, this was a comparatively routine win. Lampard missed a first-half penalty, but Florent Malouda notched the first goal of the game. Drogba then atoned for Lampard’s miss, scoring from a spot-kick of his own in the second-half.

Chelsea vs Stoke City, Stamford Bridge, Saturday 10th March 2012
Of the fixtures this weekend, Chelsea’s necessity for points from the Stoke clash is enormous given that Spurs play a tough away game at Everton, and Arsenal compete against Newcastle at the Emirates. Di Matteo’s side must ensure that they are in position to profit from any points that may be dropped by the North London rivals.

This is obviously easier said than done, especially since the even clearer chance to make up ground in the race for Champions League football was missed last weekend as we slumped to defeat at West Brom before the Gooners thumped Tottenham 5-2. The fact that we still face trips to the Etihad, the Emirates, and Anfield before the season further underline that we need to take wins from games such as Stoke at home.

There can be some optimism, though. The FA Cup win against Birmingham in midweek served up one or two positives, not least Di Matteo’s goal celebration alongside the star-studded bench he had controversially named hours before. One would suspect that those same big guns will be named in the starting line-up against Stoke. That includes John Terry, whose miraculous recovery from injury has prompted cynicism from the media.

Tony Pulis’ team have a very distinctive style of play, and it is one which, largely, our boys have been able to deal with well over the years. The 7-0 battering they took at the Bridge two years ago was very much a one-off that belied their reputation as a well-organised, difficult-to-beat, hard-working side.

If there’s one thing we can guarantee from Stoke this weekend, it’s a battle. But it is certainly a battle we can win. And nothing less than a win will do as Di Matteo’s Blue and White Army aim to pick up the pieces of a disappointing league campaign so far.

Ryan Hollands, @TheRyski

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