Venue: Stamford Bridge
Date: Saturday, 15 September
Kick-off: 15.00 BST
There was much grumbling after our game against QPR last weekend and rightly so because we looked disinterested and lacking ideas. That was nothing compared to some of the complaints after Juventus midweek – although personally, I thought there were a lot more positives to take from that game. We might not have faced the bigger sides in the league yet but the Italians are unbeaten in like, forever, and a 2-2 draw would’ve been a decent result if it hadn’t come from a position of 2-0 up.
That’s something we can’t afford to repeat and yet I almost expect to see us take our foot off the pedal once we go ahead now. Whether its complacency or just that we haven’t quite found our stride to maintain it over 90 minutes yet, I’m not clear. What is clear though, is that today’s opponents will let us know they’re in the game.
We already knew Stoke could be difficult to play against and the additions of Charlie Adam, Steven Nzonzi and Michael Owen won’t have done them any harm at all. We’ll have a much more physical game than we had midweek and whilst we’ve already seen from Hazard he can take the odd bash on the shins, we’ll have to see how Oscar – our star in midweek – and Torres, (who looked totally out of sorts against Juventus) stand up to it.
Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo certainly knows Stoke aren’t a side who’ll roll over and give you easy points and going into today’s game says “Stoke haven’t been involved in a game this week, which we need to take into consideration. It’s always a difficult game against them and we have found it hard to break them down. It’s not just due to their physical approach, they are very well organised defensively as well. Michael Owen is a natural goalscorer, he’s a very good signing for Stoke. I was a bit surprised as he’s not very tall, like a lot of their players, but he’s still very dangerous and I’m sure they will benefit from his qualities.”
Stoke manager Tony Pulis meanwhile, acknowledges we’ve had some right results against them in the past but thinks it could go either way today, saying “It would be lovely to get something from Stamford Bridge and we have come close a few times, but we have also had our backside slapped a few times as well. We know that they are a top, top team with outstanding quality throughout their squad and if things go for them on the day, they are more than likely to come out on top. If we go there, work hard and give it a crack and things go our way, you never know.”
For Chelsea, Marko Marin (hamstring) is still not deemed fit enough for his debut and Daniel Sturridge (hamstring) missing from our Champions League game against Juventus is also absent through injury. Oscar is expected to be available despite having his ankle trodden on midweek.
For Stoke, Andy Wilkinson misses out through suspension after Balotelli’s face collided with his elbow last week although Jamie Ness (groin) has been back in training and could return
CHELSEA (from): Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Luiz, Cole, Bertrand, Mikel, Romeu, Lampard, Ramires, Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Moses, Piazon, Torres, Turnbull.
STOKE (from): Begovic, Sorensen, Huth, Shawcross, Cameron, Upson, Shotton, Wilson, Whelan, Etherington, Pennant, Delap, Palacios, Jones, Jerome, Crouch, Walters, Kightly, Whitehead, Adam, Edu, Nzonzi, Owen, Ness.
Chelsea 1-0 Stoke (10th March 2012)
Stoke don’t exactly come into this game with the best record at Stamford Bridge. In fact, we’re unbeaten in our 8 Premier League games against them at home, putting 17 goals past them along the way and conceding 3. Add to that the fact we’ve won 5 of our last 6 at home with The Potters coming into this without a win in 10 games, and we could get a bit complacent.
I always feel a bit dubious when we play Stoke though. I know we’ve had games when we’ve absolutely battered them but we’ve also had games when we haven’t. They’re a tough, physical side at times and they have it in them to hurt us with set-pieces. So if we don’t keep the ball on the floor and give away cheap corners, we could very easily drop points today.