Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.
Stoke v Chelsea | Saturday 7 November | Britannia Stadium | 19:30
It is hard to feel too sorry for Jose Mourinho. He has been the master of his own downfall, seemingly unable to come to terms with his own blatant errors and rampant egomania. The Eva Carneiro saga won’t go away and now murmurs of player discontent are serving to just exacerbate what has been a dreadful season. The win over Kiev has bought him some time, but the beleaguered Portuguese has got to start picking up the points in the Premier League. Stoke were responsible for Chelsea’s exit in the Carling Cup and will be looking to reinstall some lost league momentum.
To Win (90 mins)
Stoke’s point at Newcastle was hard fought and almost seemed to embody an old-school conception of Stoke City. Jack Butland has been nothing short of sensational this season, and with Joe Hart currently experiencing butter fingers, it is no wonder that some sectors believe him to be the best keeper in England. Ryan Shawcross’s return to the side has helped to bring some stability back to defence. He also clearly fills a leadership void that has been somewhat lacking in clutch situations for the Potters this season.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Hughes opts to go with Diouf up front for the visit of Chelsea. Chelsea have looked vulnerable against powerful strikers a la Sako or Benteke, and Arnautovic will look to support the powerful target man as often as possible. For me- considering he was Stoke’s record signing- Shaqiri has to do a little more in wide positions. His dead ball delivery is excellent, but he just hasn’t looked to get beyond defenders enough. Chelsea’s confidence is shattered so this should be a perfect opportunity to get amongst the full-backs.
Chelsea will be looking to dispel rumours of player unrest and as such I expect Mourinho to select a powerful side. He may persist with Zouma at right full-back, a potential area of interest for Stoke City’s wingers. I expect him to continue with Ramires in the holding role but possibly draft Fabregas in beside him, so to concretely dispel any of the rumours linking Fabregas with the role of infant terrible in the supposed mutiny. Willian has been nothing short of excellent in the past few weeks and will look to boss the midfield and reenergize Eden Hazard.
Oscar has looked a little jaded to me, as if he has somehow incurred the ire of Jose at some point or other. I feel that the pocket dynamos- Willian and Hazard- will be the key to success for Chelsea. Adam and Whelan can be somewhat laboured shielding the back four, as Hazard showed in a blistering 120-minute performance against the Potters in the Capital One Cup. Shawcross also has the tendency to throw himself into tackles, which will encourage the dribbling of Hazard and Willian.
All conventional wisdom would suggest that Stoke have a fair chance at the three points here, and perhaps they do. But Chelsea really dominated Stoke in the 120 minutes of that Capital One Cup, with Hazard and Willian stretching a full strength Stoke side to breaking point on various occasions. I feel that Mourinho will be able to pinpoint their weaknesses and should come out with a narrow victory.