Midfield A Key Battle Ground At Stoke
Chelsea face a tough trip to Stoke on Saturday, where we were twice beaten last season. We’ve only managed one win in our last four matches’ home or away against the potters. Last season saw us exit the league cup away at the Brittania, going out on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time. That match was in October of 2015, and the following month we fell to a 1-0 defeat at the same venue in the league, thanks to a Marko Arnautovic strike. Our performances from last season to this, have however, been like night and day. The reverse fixture this season at Stamford Bridge saw us run out 4-2 winners in an entertaining match, a Willian double book-ended by Cahill and Costa strikes was more than enough to top a spirited Stoke on the day.
Before last season’s defeats, we had in fact only failed to win one of our last eight home or away against Stoke, the sole defeat coming at the Britannia in December 2013. This was another high scoring, and entertaining fixture, at least for the neutral. A last minute Assaidi wonder strike denied us a point after a Schurrle double had put us ahead, and then drew us level at 2-2. Peter Crouch was on the score sheet as he was at the Bridge this season, and is to be watched after enjoying somewhat of resurgence this season.
Other classic encounters of recent times from a Chelsea point of view are without doubt the 0-4 away win in season 12-13. Jon Walters had an absolute disaster, scoring at the wrong end twice, as well as missing a penalty. Lampard netted a pen, and Hazard found the top corner from range with a world class strike to round off proceedings. In 09/10 we were regularly destroying teams by monster score lines, and Stoke did not escape, taking a 7-0 hiding at Stamford Bridge. Salamon Kalou hitting a well deserved hat-trick in this match.
This however, is likely to be a tighter encounter. Stoke are likely to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and may be hard to catch in transition. After looking uncharacteristically shaky at earlier stages in the season, they are now much more assured at the back. Martins-Indi, who scored against us earlier in the season, may be hard work for Costa to overcome, and he is backed up by Shawcross. Along with Erik Pieters, all are tall, and defending set pieces is always a strength of theirs. The midfield match up will perhaps be the key. Lately sides have tended to sit deeper to restrict the space for Hazard and Pedro to operate in, expect a similar tactic hear. This increases the importance of Matic and Kante, as they should find more spacer deeper to orchestrate attacks from. Quick movement wide, and finding Hazard dropping even deeper between the gaps in the midfield and drawing defenders higher up the pitch will be an important source of creativity going forward.
It is possible that Antonio Conte may opt to return Cesc Fabregas to the side. After starting our previous two league matches, he was only a substitute against Manchester United in the FA Cup. His ability to pick out passes, and create opportunities from deep could be key in this fixture though. Other than Cesc possibly replacing Matic, don’t expect many changes from the norm. Willian netted a double in the reverse fixture, so he may be opted for in place of Pedro.