Chelsea welcome Stoke City on New Year’s Eve, looking to extend their amazing Premier League winning run to 13 straight games.
The Blues are certainly showing champions-elect form, and will see the Potters’ visit as an opportunity to take three more points.
Mark Hughes’ side have found the festive period tough and are without a win in their last four outings – most recently getting thrashed 4-1 by Liverpool.
Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 system continues to reap the rewards and those 12 straight wins have also yielded 10 clean sheets, and unbelievable feat given the Premier League’s reputation for free-flowing play and expansive attacking football.
The Blues’ 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Boxing Day without the suspended N’Golo Kante and Diego Costa highlighted their sheer strength in depth – they didn’t even start summer signing Michy Batshuayi as most predicted.
Stoke certainly have their work cut out if they’re to get anything out of this game. But football is a funny old game. Can the Potters turn the form book on it’s head and upset the odds?
The teams last faced each other in the league at Stamford Bridge back in March, when Guus Hiddink was steadying the ship after a dreadful beginning to the season which the Blues never really recovered from.
Chelsea took the lead in the encounter through youngster Bertrand Traore, after receiving the ball from Nemanja Matic 20 yards from goal.
Stoke levelled through Mame Biram Diouf after an error on the part of Thibaut Courtois, who punched the ball straight into the path of the Senegalese who duly nodded home.
Stoke almost snatched all three points through Bojan but was denied by Courtois who made amends for his contribution to the equaliser.
The draw kept a demoralised Chelsea in 10th place – a win over their opponents would have seen the leapfrog them and two other teams (Southampton and Liverpool) into seventh.
Victor Moses vs Erik Pieters
Mark Hughes has been reported by the Stoke Sentinel saying he views Antonio Conte’s conversion of Moses to a right-wing-back as one of his most influential decisions since he took over at Chelsea.
Hughes knows the Nigerian well having took him on-loan for the 2014/15 season, and will know the threat he poses. He has been outstanding so far this season and could run Erik Pieters ragged with his pace when overlapping Willian.
Bruno Martins Indi and Ryan Shawcross vs Diego Costa
Certainly a physical clash on the face of it.
The returning Diego Costa will be hungry to put himself about, and Martins Indi and Shawcross will be tasked with trying to contain the Premier League’s top scorer. If the duo can keep him quiet, they might get something from the game.
The Blues welcome back key duo Kante and Costa after they served their suspension from picking up too many yellow cards. Spanish winger Pedro will miss the clash through suspension and club captain John Terry is still sidelined with a glute injury.
A trio of knee injuries sidelines three defenders for Mark Hughes. There is no word yet on when Geoff Cameron and Phil Bardsley will return but Marc Muniesa could make the bench. Marko Arnautovic misses his final game through suspension after seeing red against Southampton.
Predicted Line Ups
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois/Luiz, Cahill, Azpilicueta/Moses Kante, Matic, Alonso/Willian, Costa, Hazard.
Stoke (4-2-3-1): Grant/Johnson, Martins Indi, Shawcross, Pieters/Whelan, Imbula/Diouf, Allen, Shaqiri/Walters.
It’s very difficult to ignore the form guide ahead of the encounter. Chelsea look unbeatable and have two big-hitters back in Kante and Costa.
Stoke have had it tough over the Christmas period and it won’t get any easier come New Year’s Eve. Conte’s system is so effective, and it’s difficult to look beyond all three points for the ruthless Blues.
Chelsea 3-1 Stoke City