The gloomy mood around Stamford Bridge under the reign of Andre Villas-Boas has been lifted by the dismissal of the Portuguese boss, as well as their 2-0 midweek victory against Birmingham City.
Juan Mata and Raul Meireles were on the scoresheet in the FA Cup fifth round replay and gave interim manager Roberto di Matteo his first win at the helm. Villas-Boas has been publicly criticised for undermining the authority of midfielder Frank Lampard by former Blues defender Alex and Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola this week. However, Di Matteo did not play Lampard or Michael Essien, similar to Villas-Boas’ team choice away at Napoli, and will continue to play in the same vein that Villas-Boas introduced at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea captain John Terry has been missing in recent weeks, but could be a surprise inclusion in the squad for the visit of Stoke City tomorrow. The England international was expected to be ruled out for six to eight weeks after knee surgery, but has performed miracles to speed his recovery up and save his club’s season. Terry has admitted that the players can take blame for Villas-Boas’ exit and the rest of the Blues squad have to fight for the shirt and salvage their chances of reaching the top four. Ashley Cole is also back in the Blues defence after a heel injury, which ensures Di Matteo is at full strength for his first Premier League game as interim Chelsea boss.
In complete contrast, Stoke chairman Peter Coates has backed his manager Tony Pulis to the hilt and has reaped the rewards. The Potters are secure in their Premier League status and despite an under-achieving season where they have juggled Europa League and domestic football, Stoke find themselves in the top half of the table. Stoke have come a long way in Pulis’ career and will be optimistic of their chances at Stamford Bridge having seen Aston Villa and Fulham both pick up positive results in West London.
Defender Andy Wilkinson is an injury doubt after hobbling off with a hamstring problem during last week’s 1-0 win over Norwich City. Midfielder Rory Delap is nursing a similar injury and will be assessed ahead of the trip to London. Jermaine Pennant could be a doubt for the game after reports emerged over Stoke fining the winger two week’s wages for a breach of discipline. The winger took to his Twitter account to deny the accusations and insists that everything is fine between him and the Stoke manager.
Chelsea are confident following their midweek win at St. Andrew’s and Stoke have not won at Stamford Bridge since a 1-0 victory in April 1974. Stoke have hit good form, winning their last two after a barren spell of six losses in a row, and could be a threat at Stamford Bridge. Di Matteo should make his record 100% from two games with a good victory over a resilient Potters side.
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