Hang on, did I miss the announcement? You know, about the open top bus parade after our mid-week win. When we lose and draw, it’s the end of the world; Scolari is pelted with dissent, the club is on the verge of collapse and an angel loses its wings…Okay so I made the last one up, but even so, it usually means some bad times are on their way. So on the flipside, when we win we should be rejoicing! Enjoying ourselves again! We are world-beaters, Scolari is a genius, Kalou looks a half-decent winger…Nope, this time I didn’t make up the last one, he did actually play well!
So by that reckoning, after steamrollering the mighty Southend United, the next victims to suffer from the full force of the tough and mighty Blues will be the not so mighty but very tough Stoke City in the Premier League. Despite hailing from a city famous for pottery, Stoke haven’t cracked under pressure this season and sit above the top three (most notably Tottenham), however they are yet to record an away victory so far and without the narrow pitch of the Britannia Stadium they have only bagged a measly six goals in ten games on their travels.
But of course, they haven’t played us at Stamford Bridge yet. Having conceded what feels like a couple of hundred goals in the last few games from wide areas and set-pieces, who better to play than a team which excels in scoring from wide areas and set-pieces? Stoke didn’t have Rory Delap available when we visited them back in September so Petr Cech will have to deal with the guy who’s only in the XI because of his throw cultured midfielder for the first time.
Most of Stoke’s goals come from a ball into the box deflected in by a huge lump of a striker. It was no surprise then to see James Beattie move to Stoke this week, following the signing of Matthew Etherington recently. Beattie has scored against us before – six in the last 12 times he has played us to be precise – most memorably after just 16 seconds in one game, but he also provided a bit of comic relief whilst playing for Everton, as he attempted to run straight through William Gallas head first, earning himself a straight red card in the 2004/05 game at Goodison Park.
Stoke have big lump of a striker #2 Mama Sidibe out injured, while big lump of a striker #3 Ricardo Fuller is suspended.
Meanwhile, we are counting the cost of victory with a few injuries of our own. Deco has a calf strain (cue wild celebrations around the SW6 area) while Joe Cole hurt his knee against Southend with rumours of a two month lay-off circulating. Florent Malouda returns (cue a complete halt to those celebrations from a couple of lines ago), as does the human tantrum Didier Drogba, while Ricardo Carvalho should start after missing the Southend game and showing us what we miss when Alex plays. Talent mainly.
Luis Felipe Scolari has also hinted that there could be places in the squad for youngsters Miroslav Stoch and Gael Kakuta, both of whom can play out wide if Malouda doesn’t make it through the 90 minutes following his injury.
As I mentioned before, we travelled to Stoke earlier this season for the reverse fixture. A 2-0 win courtesy of goals from José Bosingwa and Nicolas Anelka handed us the three points. However, you don’t have to go far back to find the last time Stoke won at Stamford Bridge, with a Paul Peschisolido goal the difference between the two sides back in a League Cup tie in October 1995.
The mid-week cup win (did I mention we won a game?) over Southend would have been a major confidence boost for the lads, but problems still persist in terms of the defence. It goes without saying that there is something wrong with our marking of set-pieces and positioning at crosses, so the visit of Stoke could either bring more of the same complications, or a chance to redeem ourselves right at the deep end. Tony Pulis’ side will no doubt try their luck and chuck balls into the box at every opportunity (literally in the case of Delap), and if we don’t deal with them then the bad times will return again. Don’t book the open top bus yet, we could have one hell of a struggle on our hands when Stoke visit on Saturday.