Title challengers Chelsea take on a mid-table side with nothing much to play for at the Bet365 Stadium this Saturday. The Blues will see this match as a prime opportunity to strengthen their chances of winning the Premier League title, with closest rivals Tottenham and Manchester City facing tougher matches against Southampton and Liverpool respectively. Nevertheless, they will be very aware of how Stoke City have frustrated them in previous meetings, with Chelsea only winning once in their last four attempts.
Chelsea’s form is as you’d expect it to be for near-certain division champions. Recent slip-ups against Burnley and Liverpool shouldn’t disguise the fact that Antonio Conte’s side have not lost a domestic match since September, aside from the surprising 2-0 defeat to Tottenham at the start of the year. They have the joint-best away from in the league and back-to-back wins mean that they’re high on confidence. The only apparent issue for Chelsea at the moment is their defence. They have failed to keep clean sheets in their last five matches and have no doubt frustrated a lot of Fantasy League managers in the process.
The Potters have had a difficult run of fixtures since late January and their league form has suffered because of it. Two victories in the last seven matches doesn’t give a full reading of Stoke’s morale, especially as they are very comfortably mid-table at the moment. Draws against Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City have shown their ability to play out deadlocks against the toughest of opposition. Plus, unlike Chelsea, Stoke have no problem when it comes to not conceding with three shutouts in their last four matches.
Xherdan Shaqiri is in line to make a long-awaited return to the Stoke City starting XI. The 25-year-old hasn’t appeared for the Potters since the 1-1 draw with Manchester United in January and will provide a much-needed spark should he get game time. Elsewhere, Glen Johnson is expected to shake off a shoulder injury that ruled him out of the Manchester City game last week. Mame Biram Diouf should also return, whilst Stephen Ireland and Jack Butland remain sidelined.
Wing-back Victor Moses is Chelsea’s only real concern ahead of the upcoming match. The Nigerian sustained an apparent calf problem which forced him off in the FA Cup match against Manchester United. Apart from that, Chelsea have no long-term absentees.
Stoke City predicted line-up Chelsea predicted line-up
Mark Hughes opted for a 4-4-2 formation in order to shut out Manchester City last week so it’s likely that they will opt for a similar system against equally strong opponents. With Shaqiri expected to go straight back into the starting line-up, Diouf could be pushed forward to partner Saido Berahino up front. Alternatively, the Swiss winger could replace Egyptian youngster Ramadan Sobhi on the opposite wing. Glen Johnson, if fully fit, will surely replace Phil Bardsley in the right-back position.
Conte has two possible choices in resolving the Victor Moses dilemma. Pedro could drop back into the RWB position, allowing Willian to start in the forward line alongside Eden Hazard and Diego Costa (as he did in the FA Cup last week). The more sensible option would be to give Nathan Ake his first Chelsea start since returning on loan from Bournemouth. However, Conte will be well aware of Stoke’s defensive capabilities, so could opt for the first option in an attempt to overload the right flank in the pursuit of a breakthrough. Elsewhere, Cesc Fabregas should return to the starting XI in place of Nemanja Matic, who started the in the FA Cup.
Whilst Stoke have been more than impressive against the big sides this season, you feel that Chelsea have far more to lose in this fixture and would thus play with far more intensity. The home side have shown in previous meetings that they can cause an upset, but it will be just out of their reach this time around.
Prediction: Stoke 0-1 Chelsea