If ever there was a must win game for the Blues this season; this is it. Having lost to Tottenham last week, Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League has been cut to just one point. Chelsea once again enter Sunday’s match against Stoke knowing that they must get a win against a tough minded side and will be saddled with knowing the result of the United/Tottenham match on the day prior.
If the pressure of having to win at this critical stage wasn’t enough, Carlo Ancelotti is facing a selection headache ahead of the match. Chelsea’s leading scorer, Didier Drogba, is only half fit, nursing a groin injury that may require surgery before the World Cup. Michael Essien, who hasn’t been seen in a Chelsea shirt since December, will not be available for the remainder of the season because of knee injury complications, and his replacement, John Mikel Obi, will also miss out with a knee injury suffered against Tottenham. Making matters worse, the Chelsea captain, John Terry, is suspended after seeing two yellow cards last week and Ricardo Carvalho is still a week away from fitness.
On a positive note, Ashley Cole looks set to return to left back with the goal of proving his fitness before the World Cup. Branislav Ivanovic returned for 45 minutes against Tottenham, but will most likely return to the starting 11 in the center of defence, partnering Alex in the absence of Terry.
Tony Pulis has guided Stoke to a respectable 43 points this season, leaving the Potters in 11th place and guaranteeing them Premier League football this season. Stoke have also been notoriously stingy opponents for the Blues over their last two meetings, requiring late goals from the Blues to see them off.
Stoke will welcome back Matthew Etherington, their second leading goal scorer with six goals, to the center of midfield and Ryan Shawcross to the center of defence for this match. Both players have been important in their attempt to remain in the top flight for another season. Part of their success is down to their unbeaten away form since the start of 2010. One concern for Tony Pulis will be the absence of leading goal scorer, Ricardo Fuller because of an Achilles problem.
Chelsea failed to deal with the pressure last week, knowing that they must get a win to keep pace with United. They will once again be in a similar situation on Sunday. Ancelotti has set his sights on the league and cup double, but there’s still much work to be done to win the league. After all, things don’t get much easier for Chelsea as a trip to Anfield is on the horizon. Though one could argue, that might not be too terribly bad.