An emphatic mid-week win against Pompey sets us up nicely for the trip to Stoke City this Saturday as we return to league action at the Britannia Stadium. Stoke have upset a few teams already this season with their physical approach, beating Aston Villa and most notably holding Liverpool to a goalless draw at Anfield, but it says it all when most conversations about the newly-promoted side’s style of play begin with: “Have you seen Rory Delap’s throw?”
Tony Pulis’ side narrowly joined Chelsea in the fourth round of the Carling Cup with a penalty shootout win over Reading on Tuesday, with a starting XI which included eight changes from the game against Liverpool on Saturday. On paper, their squad looks weak compared to other teams in the Premier League, but they are helped out by the fact that only Ibrahima Sonko is out injured. The centre-back, infamous for knocking out Carlo Cudicini in that memorable game against Reading a couple of seasons ago, is missing with a leg injury. Vincent Pericard, who scored on Tuesday, has endured a frustrating time at the Britannia Stadium but the striker has already netted against Chelsea in a friendly while he was a youngster with Juventus.
Stoke have an assortment of players in their ranks who have top-flight experience, with several notable names including Ricardo Fuller, Dominic Matteo, Amdy Faye and Thomas Sorenson. Midfielder Liam Lawrence is seen as a vital cog in the Stoke machine, and scored a belter against us two seasons ago for Sunderland. Dave Kitson up front will also be a threat.
Luis Felipe Scolari made several changes for the Pompey game but the trip to Stoke could see returns for Jose Bosingwa, Ashley Cole and John Mikel Obi among others, who were rested for the trip to Fratton Park. With a potentially tricky tie away in Romania against CFR Cluj on Tuesday, Scolari will have to juggle the squad to cope with the demands, and with Deco, Michael Essien and Ricardo Carvalho all missing with injuries, there are gaps to fill. New signing Mineiro, brought in on a short-term deal until the end of the season after he was released by German side Hertha Berlin at the end of last season, isn’t expected to feature.
Despite the two sides being kept apart by league status, the Blues actually played Stoke as recently as February 2003, with an FA Cup tie in Staffordshire. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Jesper Gronkjaer got the goals and sealed a 2-0 win as Chelsea progressed to the Quarter-Finals. However, back in 1995, it was Stoke who prevailed in a cup competition, this time the League Cup. A Paul Peschisolido goal at Stamford Bridge knocked the Blues out of the Second Round.
Having lived in Stoke for the last two years I have some advice for travelling fans and indeed Scolari and his squad. Don’t expect to see any sunlight, don’t look at anyone directly in the eyes, and get back on the M6 as soon as you can and high-tail it home. If you want to stop and see the sights, set aside a couple of minutes at most and don’t expect too much. It is one of those places where Chelsea will have to come and battle for the points, and bar another exercise in frustrating the opposition by Stoke, we should be able to take all three.
With players like Mikel, John Terry, Alex and Didier Drogba (when he’s upright), we can mix it up on the pitch as well as Stoke can physically, plus we have the skill to boot. Oh, and as long as we make sure we never concede a throw-in anywhere in a 50-yard radius to Petr Cech’s goal, we should be fine.
Prediction: 26 goals in seven games involving Stoke so far this season points to a leaky defence but a capable attack, so I’m going for a blood and thunder battle with the final score 3-1 to Chelsea.
Stoke City play Chelsea at the Brittania Stadium on Saturday 27th September 2008, kick-off is 3PM.