Our EPL scribe gives his verdict on Saturday's game between Chelsea and Stoke City.
Chelsea will be looking to extend their awe-inspiring run of 12 consecutive wins to 13 as they host an under-strength Stoke City side. The Blues have only conceded 2 goals during this run, with one of those goals being an own goal by Gary Cahill. Christian Eriksson is the only man to score against them in their last 12 games. Mark Hughes would have been delighted with the way his team started against Liverpool until they ultimately ran out of gas. It’s a fairly cruel run of away fixtures over this congested segment of the season, and Hughes will be hoping to frustrate the Blues for as long as possible.
Chelsea v Stoke City | Saturday 31 December | Stamford Bridge | 17:00
To Win (90 Mins)
Chelsea 1/4 | Draw 9/2 | Stoke 10/1
Chelsea will be welcoming back both Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante from suspension, while Pedro will have to sit out this game. It seems like a decent enough trade, although the former Barcelona man was terrific against Bournemouth. I suspect that Cesc Fabregas may revert back to the bench following a prolonged stint in the first side, reteaming Kante with Matic. Costa will clearly be pivotal as Stoke will always bring a slightly more robust dimension to their game.
I think that Chelsea will tear down those flanks through Alonso and Moses. I really think that the more experienced heads of both Johnson and Pieters are going to struggle to contain that threat. Furthermore, of all the top sides, Chelsea are perhaps the most physically combative, especially with that defensive three protected by Kante. This should largely nullify the physical threat that Stoke possess. They would have needed both Arnautovic and Sheqiri to really threaten this Chelsea side.
Losing Arnautovic to that red card suspension was always going to be difficult in the additional absence of pocket dynamo Sheqiri. It leaves Hughes with few real attacking options. Crouch was dusted off for the Liverpool game and will likely have to play a role here. Walters will look to physically man up to the Chelsea’s back three while Diouf utilizes his obvious athleticism to attempt to get in behind them.
It’s clear that Stoke have been caught in between a rock and a hard place this season. Hughes clearly wants to evolve the brand of Stoke and push them into a new aesthetic direction. However, they have lost something of the intimidation factor that they had for so long under Pulis. It’s all well and good trying to implement new ideas, but I feel that perhaps Stoke have deviated a little too far. And now it shows when they are forced to revert to a more direct approach.
Verdict: HT/FT Double - Chelsea to Win Both Halves at 7/10
I always felt that the Bournemouth game was going to be the tougher assignment, especially with their speed on the counterattack. Stoke have key players missing and an ageing squad. Chelsea are positively incandescent at present and will be rampant at what is sure to be a special atmosphere at the Bridge on New Years’s Eve.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets