With one eye on the second leg of their Champions League tie against PSG, Chelsea will play host to Stoke City this weekend. While many would consider the tie with the French side more important, it’s hard to not pay due to the remaining league matches, with the Blues looking to continue their climb of the league table.
Hiddink’s men find themselves in the top half of the pack for the first time all season. The Dutch manager has only lost once in charge of the Blues and this came in the first leg tie with PSG. He has yet to suffer a loss in the league. This should offer the squad a bit of confidence as this match has real implications on where they will finish.
The West Londoners currently sit in 10th, just one point off of Southampton and three back of Stoke City in 7th. Chelsea have won their last three matches in the league for the first time all season. Three points would bring them level with Stoke, who at 7th can potentially qualify for Europe depending on the winner of the FA Cup.
Every league match from now until the end of the season will be major for the Blues who are looking to make up for their poor performance in the first half of the season. While it remains unlikely that they’ll be able to qualify for the Champions League via a league place, the club can remain hopeful for Europa League entry.
Stoke City enter the match on the back of three straight victories as well, but against Newcastle, Aston Villa and AFC Bournemouth. Marko Arnautovic remains their number one goal threat with 9 this season so far. Xherdan Shaqiri should also be regarded as dangerous, leading Stoke in assists with 5 this campaign. The Swiss International struck in the 80’ to put Stoke past Newcastle midweek in the league.
Chelsea should be expected to add another win to their streak, despite the very realistic possibility that Diego Costa will be rested for a portion or the entire game. The Spaniard has been scoring goals for fun recently, adding the winning goal against Norwich midweek.
With the Champions League tie on March 9 with PSG approaching, Hiddink may rest his talisman and could opt to give Alexandre Pato his first league start since joining Chelsea on loan in January.
We could also see Bertrand Traore make an appearance, coming off his first start midweek. Having played well, the Burkina Faso International should be brimming with confidence ahead of this important fixture.
Look for the Blues to continue their resurgence, along with Hazard, who’s looking back to his best, having put in a strong performance midweek. The Belgian should put in another dominant 90 minutes and with the help of Fabregas and Willian, Chelsea should add three points to their case for Europe.
Predicted Lineup: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Kenedy, Mikel, Fabregas, Traore, Willian, Hazard, Diego Costa
Predicted Score: Chelsea 3, Stoke City 1
Predicted Scorers: Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill and Mame Diouf