Chelsea head to Stoke on Saturday without manager Jose Mourinho who will be serving a one-match stadium ban. The Blues will be desperate to turn around their poor form, but will they be able to shrug off a demanding week and win at the Britannia without their manager there? Or, could the lack of the Mourinho side show actually help the players?
The manager is expected to have basically his full complement of players available on Saturday, with only long term absentee, Thibaut Courtois, definitely out. Branislav Ivanovic is expected to be back for this game, although it’s not certain he’ll start. Kurt Zouma has been deputising for him at right back, and he’s been one of the few solid performers in the side. Diego Costa escaped a ban for his altercation with Martin Srktel, so he’s available to start.
This fixture last season was a defining game for Mourinho and his team. Goals from John Terry and Cesc Fabregas helped them claim a win that ensured they’d be top on Christmas Day, and it promoted big celebrations from the players at full time. This game will be very different, but possibly even more crucial for the team. With Stoke a place above Chelsea in 14th, they really have to get a result here, a fourth defeat in five league games is unthinkable.
Of course, the Blues have made this trip pretty recently. They visited Stoke last week in the Capital One Cup, and they managed to grab a late equaliser to get a 1-1 draw. The game went to penalties, and Mourinho’s side were knocked out. He won’t be in the stadium to see this one, after being handed a ban by the FA for his behaviour at West Ham, when he was sent from the touchline.
It’s been an awful week for Mourinho, who’s had bans, court cases and rumours of mutinies thrown at him following the Liverpool defeat. With his job under pressure, some big worries in his personal life, a weekend away from the game might not be a punishment from the FA, but a much needed lifeline.
Of course, the manager will most likely be involved in this game up until the teams get to the dressing room, and with modern technology he could easily keep in contact with the team. But, this should prevent him from having post-match media duties, and a break from the kinds of headlines that have followed his recent interviews could do the players a world of good.
While this is far and away from the pressure of the title fight that they had last season, a win here could provoke similar celebrations. While Mourinho should get more time to turn things around, he knows that their current form can’t keep going. No matter where he is on Saturday, if he can inspire a turnaround, that’ll be a massive boost to the team.
LCN Verdict: 1-1 draw