When Chelsea walk onto the pitch at the Britannia Stadium Saturday, two things will be on the back of the players’ as well as the manager Rafa Benitez’s mind – their last Premier League game when they lost 1-0 to Queens Park Rangers and their previous match when they were humbled by Swansea 2-0 in the Capital One Cup semi-finals. Benitez was basically fighting a losing battle even before he agreed to take on the job at Stamford Bridge. Majority of the fans have been against the Spaniard from day one, with the crescendo of boos increasing considerably with every significant defeat. To make matters worse, Fernando Torres was roundly jeered by the Chelsea faithful, in the Swansea game, for the first time since making his move from Liverpool, after another abject performance – ironically it was also his 100th Blues appearance. Benitez could not have asked for a tougher away assignment — outside of a match against the top clubs — than a trip to Stoke. Benitez could not have asked for a tougher away assignment — outside of a match against the top clubs — than a trip to Stoke.
Tony Pulis’ men have one of the stingiest defences in the league – they are only second to Chelsea, having conceded just 20 goals all season, to the Blues’ 19. Chelsea are currently fourth in the table on 38 points from 20 matches, one behind third-placed Tottenham, with a game in hand. The defeat to Swansea was the product of two Bransilav Ivanovic errors, but it also showed Chelsea’s frailty under pressure. Stoke, who are tenth on 29 points, will be one of those teams that will sit back and invite the opposition to attack, while relying on the counter as well as set-pieces to break open the rival team’s defense. It is a plan that has worked quite well for Pulis’ men over the past few years, and Benitez no doubt will be aware of what to expect. The Potters have no new injury worries and the manger is expected to recall the likes of Kenwyne Jones, Asmir Begovic and Glenn Whelan after resting them for last week’s FA Cup match against Crystal Palace.
Probable Lineups :
Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Wilkinson
Whelan, Nzonzi, Adam
Kightly, Jones, Walters
Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole
David Luiz, Lampard
Marin, Mata, Hazard
Key Stats :
- Stoke’s record at the Britannia Stadium is Imperious – they are unbeaten in their last 17 Premier League home games.
- The Potters are the only side in the top flight not to have conceded a goal from outside of the penalty box this season.
- Tony Pulis’ side have kept a clean sheet in 43% of their league matches this term.
- Chelsea have not lost to Stoke in any competition for 37 years.
- Out-of-sorts Spain striker Fernando Torres had just 19 touches of the ball in the 80 minutes he played in Chelsea’s last game – which was his 100th appearance for the Stamford Bridge club.
Stoke are a tough away test for every club and with Chelsea’s good away form, but pitiful home form – it could be another win for Rafa Benitez or another catastrophe for the interim manager. A tough match to call, but you can certainly expect a clean-sheet from at least one of the teams with very little goals scored : 1-0 Chelsea.