With the long and painful international break finally over, everyone can now turn their attention, with a very huge sigh of relief, to the Premier League. The weekend’s round of matches boasts very important fixtures, the biggest of which is Arsenal versus Liverpool at the Emirates.
A majority of the soccer community see the battle for the top four (and to a lesser extent, relegation), as the only interesting race in the BPL at the moment. Therefore, Chelsea’s game against Stoke will not generate as much attention as it probably should.
The Blues head into Saturday’s game with the intention of taking all three points from a difficult Stoke City team. Having come away from the international break relatively unscathed– with no major injuries– Mourinho must be salivating at the opportunity of putting his team nine points clear of Manchester City which does not play till Monday. To do that however, they must be wary of making the same mistakes that almost cost them in their last match against Hull City.
The defenders, especially Branislav Ivanovic whose has not been playing anywhere near his best for the past couple of games, must not suffer the same lapses in concentration that saw Hull score twice in 76 seconds. Stoke City is not as defensively generous as Hull and allowing them to score even one goal could lead to a disastrous evening for the Londoners.
To that effect, expect Mourinho to come up with a game plan much similar to the one he employed so effectively against the Potters in the 2-0 win in December. In that game, he started Mikel Obi alongside Matic for the first time to match the physicality of Stoke while at the same time giving the back four more protection. Oscar was benched to allow Fabregas play further up, which worked wonders as the Spaniard not only used his passing ability to wreck havoc against the opposition, he got on the scoresheet himself.
Predicted Chelsea Lineup
Thibaut Courtois made that shocking error against Hull leading to their equalizer when he gave the ball to Abel Hernandez after failing to deal properly with Ivanovic’s terrible back pass.
However, he made up for his earlier mistake with three quality saves in quick succession, proving his ability once more. Expect him to be given the nod to start in goal.
With no other competitions to play for, I don’t expect any rotation among the back four from the last game, with the exception of the left back position where Cesar Azpilicueta should be making a return in place of Felipe Luis who had a poor game defensively against Hull. So the back four would probably be Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic and Azpilicueta.
Again, Eden Hazard, and Willian should be starting in their regular positions on the left and right wings respectively. Fabregas is expected to take the place of Oscar to make way for Zouma to join Matic in the defensive midfield position. This formation is similar to what Mourinho did at the Brittania, except he used Mikel Obi as Matic’s partner on that occasion.
Diego Costa is believed to have shrugged off the hamstring injury he sustained in Chelsea’s last game and should be fit to face Stoke. With Loic Remy an able replacement should Mourinho choose not to risk his first choice striker, it makes sense for the coach to take the safe option and use the player who got the winning goal against Hull.
However, the Portuguese has shown he’s not scared of making risky decisions and is likely to start the game with Costa especially as the team has no other competition to worry about.
Via – Lineup Builder