Chelsea head to Stoke on Monday night looking to maintain their narrow three point lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. This game kicks off a hectic period that incorporates four games in 10 days for the Blues, a tough run into the New Year which could make or break their title challenge.
They’ll be glad of the six day rest between the Derby game and this one, but it’s doubtful that Jose Mourinho will stay tight lipped about his title rivals having an extra two days rest before the Boxing Day games. On top of that, Stoke is a very difficult place to go. They may have seen their home form drop off this season compared to the last few years, but the Britannia Stadium on the Monday before Christmas isn’t an ideal trip for many players and managers.
Mourinho will have an eye on the tough run of games following this, with fourth placed West Ham next up before trips to Southampton and Spurs. With title rivals Man City facing four of the current bottom six between now and New Year’s Day, Chelsea have a very important few games coming up if they’re to lead the table coming in to 2015.
In this fixture last season, Stoke came out 3-2 winners after hitting a late winner. Fans may remember that Andre Schurrle was hauled off in that game after Mourinho thought he was being too selfish. Schurrle had scored twice, and looked to be going all out to get a hat-trick. Little things like that are what the manager does to keep everyone’s feet on the ground and their minds focused. While that seemed harsh at the time, it is exactly the approach needed at this stage of the season.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see Schurrle start here, despite two goals in his last two games. Mourinho should revert to his usual 11 after making changes in the League Cup last time out. With almost a week in between this and the last game, there should be no need to rest anyone. Diego Costa is likely to come back in up front for Didier Drogba, and you’d imagine he’d relish this sort of game against a physical side like Stoke. The only worry is his discipline, hopefully he remembers to keep his cool.
Stoke will be coming into this game on the back of a nine day break, so it’s safe enough to say that they’ll be well rested. Their recent form has been patchy, to say the least; they’ve won one, drawn one and lost three of their last five games. Bojan is the player to watch out for on their side, but Peter Crouch is another who has hit a rich vein of form. The lanky striker has scored on his last two outings, and John Terry never seems to like playing against him. Hopefully this time, Terry and the Blues can manage to edge this one.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-1