Something will have to give at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon as Chelsea take their lengthy unbeaten run in domestic football into a home encounter with Stoke City, who have won each of their last three matches.
There just seems to be no stopping Chelsea’s ascent under Guus Hiddink, who has instilled immense confidence into the side and has overseen a rise to 10th place, ominously just eight points off the top four as the leading clubs continue to struggle for consistency. It did not take them long to open their account against Norwich City on Tuesday either, with Hiddink’s decision to start with a couple of youngsters paying off within seconds as the impressive Kenedy struck a cultured low finish.
Talented forward Bertrand Traore was given his first Premier League start in a game where the Blues were made to hold on for much of the second half after Diego Costa had extended their lead in controversial fashion just before the interval, but that they managed to see it out shows that the winning mentality has well and truly returned. This one will be an interesting battle against a side that has never taken anything from their previous seven Premier League visits, but have already defied the Londoners twice this season in league and cup.
Stoke have been boosted recently by the return of some key individuals and that has shown in terms of their results, with some tidy performances and a renewed solidity at the back leading to a run of form that is much more characteristic of the quality of the squad. The two outstanding outfield players continue to be Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri, with the latter having scored the winner in emphatic fashion against Newcastle United during the week.
The match was not one full of chances and goalmouth incident, but the Potters were clearly superior and deserved their victory, although they had to rely upon the continued excellence of Jack Butland in goal. The England international’s reflexes are likely to be called upon again here and will be key to his side’s chances of coming away with something, but this has the makings of an open and entertaining game between two teams in form.
Kenedy faces a late fitness test on a groin problem, while Chelsea will definitely be without Pedro Rodriguez, John Terry and Kurt Zouma.
Despite rumours to the contrary, Ryan Shawcross will remain out for Stoke, who have doubts over Goeff Cameron. Right-back Phil Bardsley is absent due to a calf injury.
Last Meeting: Chelsea won 2-1 in this fixture in April 2015 to move closer to winning the title, but the game is best remembered for Charlie Adam’s goal for the visitors, as the Scot managed to beat Thibaut Courtois from inside his own half. That goal cancelled out Eden Hazard’s penalty, but a mix-up in the Stoke defence allowed Loic Remy to poach the winner in the second half.