Saturday’s away fixture at Stoke will be the 89th meeting between the two sides, Chelsea having taken victory in 40 of the previous fixture in all competitions. The most famous of the encounters between the two was our 1972 league cup final defeat, this being the only major silverware that the potters have attained. A happier memory for us is the much more recent 7-0 home victory in the memorable run-in to our 09-10 double winning season.

Whilst Stoke did beat us at Wembley back in 72, they have failed to record a premier league win against us so far. Indeed we have only shipped 3 goals against them in the premier league era. There is however no sugar coating the fact that this is an extremely tough fixture. Stoke have regularly taken points from sides that have finished in the top 4 at the Britannia. Already this season they have drawn with Manchester City and Arsenal at home. They are also unbeaten at home this season, and only 2 matches away from going an entire calendar year unbeaten at the Britannia in the premier League.

GOOD OMENS
There are however a lot of positives for us to look at as well. Chelsea are unbeaten at the Britannia stadium, in fact we are unbeaten in 14 league matches against them, stretching back to a 1975 first division defeat at the old Victoria ground. Their last win against us came in 1995 in the second round of the league cup. The best Stoke have managed against us in the premier league is a draw. This is how our last two away league matches have ended against them, 1-1 in 10-11, and a 0-0 opener to last season.

Don’t be to disappointed if we go behind on Saturday, the last two times Stoke have taken the lead against us in matches at the Britannia we have gone on to salvage something from the match. In September 2010 Abdoulaye Faye opened the scoring for the hosts, only for Drogba to equalise in first half stoppage time, and Florent Malouda clinch a memorable 94th minute winner sending the away fans mad. Jonathan Walters, the only player to score a home league goal against us for the potters put them ahead in 10-11 as well, but Didier struck again to secure a point.

Although Stoke have won 27 matches in all competitions against us, the only competition that they have a better record against us in is the league cup, with 4 wins and three draws.

TACTICS & TEAM NEWS
Stoke have been using a similar 4-2-3-1 formation to us of late. At home Tony Pulis has on occasion changed to 4-4-2 when seeking to take the initiative, although I think the former will be his shape of choice on Saturday. Their last match, a 0-0 draw away at Crystal Palace in the F.A cup last weekend saw Pulis rest a few players, notably Kenwyne Jones, Asmir Begovic and Glenn Whelan. All three are expected to return to the starting line up. Jones will more than likely start up front with either Walters or Jerome supporting him from in behind. Begovic will return between the sticks, with a back line expected to include former Chelsea defender Robert Huth, partnering Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross at centre back.

As the well worn cliché regarding long balls forward, set pieces and robust defending still apply, Stoke are dangerous in other areas as well, notably on the counter attack, breaking at pace when the opportunity arises.

In the past, although not last season, Pulis has switched to a system with three centre backs against us, with wing backs sitting deep in a back five to negate our threat from wide. While I don’t expect this on Saturday, it is worth bearing in mind.

Benitez will no doubt retain the 4-2-3-1 we have used for most of the season. Cech, though recovering quicker than expected, is still a major doubt, so Turnbull will probably remain in goal. Moses and Mikel have departed to the African nations cup, and JT turned out for the under 21 side on Thursday night, so is also expected not to feature. Demba Ba should start up front in what should be a tough battle more suited to his attributes.

If the ref is having a shocker and you wish to berate him, his name is Andre Marriner.