Chelsea welcome former player Mark Hughes to Stamford Bridge on Sunday as the Welshman hopes to lead his Stoke side to what would be a shock victory in the FA Cup fourth round. So do the Potters have any chance of even avoiding defeat against a Blues side who are full of confidence at the moment? We think not.
These sides had very mixed fortunes at the weekend; Chelsea beat champions Manchester United 3-1 at the Bridge (thanks to a Samuel Eto’o hat-trick) while Stoke went down 1-0 at Crystal Palace, Tony Pulis masterminding the victory against his former side.
For Chelsea, everything is looking rather rosy at present. Despite not having appeared to fire on all cylinders they are third in the Premier League table, just two points behind leaders Arsenal, having won their last five league matches. They have a relatively easy draw in the first knockout round of the Champions League (against Galatasaray) and one of their strikers even managed more than a single goal in a match! One downside of their victory on Sunday was the loss to injury of Fernando Torres, but if Eto’o can recreate the form he showed against United on an ongoing basis, it might not be a big issue.
Stoke, meanwhile, have had a torrid time of things in the league of late, losing four of their last five and managing only a draw in the other. They are just four points above the relegation zone having amassed just 22 points from as many games. And with each of the bottom three sides on 18 points Mark Hughes will be nervously looking over his shoulder, especially since their next three away matches look tough: Sunderland, Southampton and, gulp, Manchester City.
With their trip to the Stadium of Light coming just four days after this one, there is the chance Hughes will opt to rest some of his key men for this visit to his old stomping ground. If he does, Stoke will have no chance of success given the lack of depth of the squad. But even putting out a full strength side they are unlikely to trouble a Chelsea side whose second string (assuming Jose Mourinho chooses to rest some of his players) includes the likes of Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, Ashley Cole and Demba Ba.
The Blues have a very winnable match on Wednesday – at home to West Ham – so there is no great need to rest too many players, but Mourinho is sure to want to give his new £21m signing Nemanja Matic a run out and his tenacity in the centre of the park will give Mata and others license to hurt Stoke, especially if Hughes does shuffle his very limited pack. Overall we think a straightforward home victory is on the cards here as Chelsea march on in the FA Cup.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 3-0