Chelsea are up north again for one of those novelty Saturday 3pm kick-off’s. This fixture, League Cup aside, is Chelsea’s last fixture of the month outside of London. This bodes well for a period of time that tests the strongest of Premier League squads. The signs in general are quite exciting for Chelsea supporters as Mourinho is yet to ever lose a match in December as manager and we all of course know about his unblemished home record. More pressingly, Chelsea are yet to lose at the Britannia Stadium or to Stoke at all since 1975. Looking at the form and Hughes’ failure thus far to inject any sort of creativity to tomorrow’s home side, it does look as though the tide is unlikely to change.
The Blues arrive off the back of a frantic 4-3 victory at The Stadium of Light. Many onlookers were surprised to see Chelsea make such hard work of 20th placed Sunderland, but it must be said that they are beginning to look a bit of a force at home under Gus Poyet. Going into the game the Black Cats had won all three home matches since the Uruguayan’s arrival and they certainly made for an uncomfortable evening to a team Mourinho described as Chelsea’s best away performance of the season so far. Mourinho feels that on Wednesday’s evidence, Sunderland should get themselves out of trouble.
Formation wise, Stoke’s set up should not be too different from Sunderland’s 4-1-4-1 shape that was heavily reliant on the work-rate of Jozy Altidore. Peter Crouch will of course be the lone front man but Aissidi seems to be the player, if anyone, that will run beyond as he did against Cardiff during the week. I am probably, much like many of the pundits lately, being a little unfair on Hughes’ static troops. It was made public from day one of his appointment that he had no money to spend – his delightfully baseball capped predecessor’s comical transfer activity had put pay to that. One of the players that he did acquire in the summer seems to be a very useful addition. At the heart beat of everything remotely technical that The Potters produce is Marko Arnautovic. He strikes me as a real talented all rounder. While he does seem to favour being deployed centrally, I have seen him break down the wing and produce on regular occasions this season. He pops up with the odd goal too and scored a stunner of a free-kick at Old Trafford a couple of months ago. Arnautovic aside, Stoke’s industrious side is typified by Charlie Adam who, when he is not attempting to start an on pitch brawl, is a real threat with consistently high quality set piece deliveries.
Expect to see fit again Samuel Eto’o lead the line after yet another embarrassing performance from our Spanish number nine during the week. Recent performances had been really impressive but we were back to the old Torres, unfortunately. Quite how he failed to score at least two with Hazard continually putting it on a plate for him is difficult to fathom. I am pretty sure Schurrle will start either tomorrow or against Bucharest in the week, but I would like to see Mata’s run in the team continued in the absence of Oscar through injury. Our mercurial Belgian needs to be rested at some point too and I doubt that Jose will wait till the Cup tie to mix up a midfield that offers plenty of options. Choices there may be but this is the sort of game where we are likely to miss Oscar in particular. Being the all rounder that he is, on many occasions has he run the show and got stuck into the likes of N’Zonzi and Shawcross who get in the faces of those attempting to play anything other than long ball rugby match that visits to Staffordshire normally provide.