Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run in the Premier League to five matches and keep the pace at the top when they take the trip to face a rejuvenated Stoke City side on Saturday afternoon.
Last Sunday’s 0-0 draw at home to Arsenal saw the Blues lose ground on both Manchester sides, dropping points for the second time this season, and Antonio Conte will want to return to winning ways.
But it won’t come easy against a Stoke side that have been excellent at home so far, doing what Chelsea couldn’t and beating the Gunners before holding Manchester United to a deserved point.
See below for The Boot Room’s comprehensive preview of Chelsea’s trip to the bet365 Stadium.
Stoke have had an inconsistent start to the 2017-18 Premier League season at best, having just the single victory over Arsenal to their name, whilst falling to defeats against Everton and most-recently Newcastle.
Sandwich back-to-back draws against West Brom and Manchester United in there and there’s no doubt that Mark Hughes will be frustrated at his side’s start, and he will want them to push on against the Blues.
The visitors themselves have had a timely turnaround of fortunes since their opening day defeat against Burnley, securing four consecutive victories – which included the prized scalp of Tottenham.
Last Sunday’s stalemate against another fierce London rival in Arsenal has somewhat stalled their momentum but, with an international break coming up, they’ll be looking to re-start a winning run.
The two had contrasting fortunes in the Carabao Cup in the week, with Chelsea’s reserve side comfortably seeing off Nottingham Forest 5-1 whilst Stoke suffered a shock exit in defeat at Bristol City.
Stoke City boss Mark Hughes has a small defensive crisis heading into Saturday, with Kurt Zouma ineligible against his parent club and Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron unlikely to be fit in time.
The rest of his side should remain unchanged from the team that were defeated by Newcastle last week, with Jese Rodriguez, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Xherdan Shaqiri starting in a front three.
The big news for Antonio Conte is that Eden Hazard is back and fit enough to start his first Premier League match of the season, with the Belgian making it through 90 minutes unscathed in the week.
David Luiz is suspended following his red card against Arsenal, meaning that Antonio Rudiger is likely to return to the Chelsea back-line, whilst Pedro makes the squad after being forced off last weekend.
Match Prediction: Stoke City 1-2 Chelsea
Mark Hughes has certainly made his side live up to the infamous stereotype of Stoke not being an easy place to go to this year, with the Potters looking for a third scalp after Arsenal and Manchester United.
Chelsea will arrive knowing it won’t be easy but, with both Manchester sides facing winnable opposition on Saturday, the Blues will know that anything other than a win could leave them even further adrift.
The return of Eden Hazard will no doubt provide a huge boost and, whilst it might not be the most exciting encounter at the bet365 Stadium, the visitors should have enough to leave with the spoils.