Chelsea head to the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday night as they look to book a place in the fifth round of the Capital One Cup. After a poor start in the league, could retaining the other trophy that they won last season now become a top priority for Mourinho? He rarely shies away from taking on this competition, so expect him to name a strong side here.
After a victory over Walsall in the last round, this game is a huge step up for the Premier League champions. This tie looks a lot harder now than it did when it was drawn, as Stoke are in much better form. The Potters hadn’t won a league game at that stage, and they were sitting near the bottom of the table. Having gone on a four game winning run coming in to this one (prior to the weekend fixtures), they’re now a much more difficult prospect.
Moving in to the last eight of the competition would be a boost for Mourinho, even if the board aren’t considering this as a must win trophy. It would ease a little bit of pressure, especially after two solid results against Aston Villa and Dynamo Kiev. The strong structure shown in the match in Ukraine should help here, as this will be a tough workout for the Blues.
Stoke may not be the huge, lumbering side they once were, but the Britannia won’t be a nice place to come to on a cold Tuesday night. They have a plethora of talented attacking midfielders, but there remains physicality in the ranks behind them too. Mourinho will almost need to match them, given that the Chelsea set-up is a little similar. The seven defensive minded players (including the keeper) are athletic and strong, while there’s a skilful, attack-minded four up top.
Of course, whilst we expect a strong team, we also expect plenty of changes. The manager takes this competition seriously every year, but he still rotates. Expect the back four to remain pretty much the same, given the lack of options back there. Either Loic Remy or Radamel Falcao will probably start up top, while youngsters like Kenedy and Rueben Loftus-Cheek should be in line to start. On top of that, expect to see John Obi Mikel get a rare run out.
This game will certainly be a test for a mixed up team, but it would be huge if they could pull off a result here. Success in the least sought after cup could inspire the squad elsewhere, with a tough league campaign to fight, plus the Champions League group starting to heat up.
One other thing Mourinho will get out of this game is a good examination for his squad players. He was recently demanding more from Falcao and Loftus-Cheek, and this is the kind of game they need to deliver in. The young Englishman will face a completely new challenge if he starts at the Britannia, and that will help him for the future.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-1