Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

Sports Mole previews Chelsea's trip to the Britannia as the Premier League champions look to bounce back from two successive defeats by beating Stoke.

Stuttering Chelsea make the trip to Stoke City on Saturday evening hoping to avoid a third successive Premier League defeat as the pressure continues to mount on Jose Mourinho.

However, the champions face a Potters side who know a thing or two about beating the Blues at the Britannia Stadium, having dumped them out of the Capital One Cup just last month.


Stoke City

Stoke City's English-born Irish striker Jonathan Walters (R) shoots past Chelsea's English defender Gary Cahill (C) to score his team's first goal during the English League Cup fourth round football match between Stoke City and Chelsea at the Britannia St© Getty Images

It has been an up and down Premier League season for Stoke City in a campaign which is yet to really take off. It took seven games for Mark Hughes's men to get off the mark - but it was worth the wait.

Mame Biram Diouf was the hero as his 83rd-minute winner secured a 2-1 victory at home to Bournemouth on September 26. From there, Stoke looked a team revitalised as they went on to win the next two - a couple of 1-0 wins away to Aston Villa and Swansea City - though the feel-good factor would not last.

Top-flight new boys Watford turned them over with a 2-0 victory at the Britannia a fortnight ago, before earning a hard-fought point in the 0-0 draw at Newcastle United - a very hard-fought point, with goalkeeper Jack Butland producing a man-of-the-match display to keep the hosts at bay.

The visit of Chelsea comes at a good time for Saturday's hosts, though. City need a big game to get their hunger back and the visit of the champions would certainly do that.

Furthermore, Stoke come into the contest with a victory over Chelsea already under their belts this season, having knocked them out of the League Cup in the fourth round last month.

Jon Walters's second-half strike had them on course for a 1-0 win in regulation, but Loic Remy equalised on 91 minutes, with Phil Bardsley then sent off just before extra time. Despite the man disadvantage, Hughes's side survived to the shootout, before progressing with a 5-4 win. Few would be surprised to see the Potters do the double over Chelsea come Saturday.

Recent form: DWWWLD
Recent form (all competitions): WWWLWD


Chelsea

Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho gestures during a UEFA Chamions league group stage football match between Chelsea and Dynamo Kiev at Stamford Bridge stadium in west London on November 4, 2015© Getty Images

Fourteen points behind co-leaders Manchester City and Arsenal. Fifteenth in the table after losing six of their first 11 games. With 21 goals shipped - having conceded 32 in the whole of last season - it can be no surprise to learn that Mourniho's men, the Premier League champions, are 80/1 to retain their title after crunching the numbers of a disastrous start to the campaign.

Last week's 3-1 defeat at home to Liverpool confirmed their worst start to a league season since 1978-79. In an awkward post-match interview, Mourinho repeatedly stated that he had "nothing to say". The West Londoners were woeful again, having lost by the same scoreline at West Ham United seven days previous.

Ramires had fired the Blues ahead against Liverpool but, not for the first time this season, they threw it away. A Philippe Coutinho brace and another from Christian Benteke sealed Chelsea's fate. Prior to kickoff, it was reported that another defeat would spell the end for Mourinho, but the Portuguese has lived to fight another day - for now.

Captain John Terry is the latest in a long line of Chelsea players to publicly back their manager amid speculation of a revolt. However, they are only words and the players' on-the-pitch displays have been betraying their off-the-field sentiments. There can only be one way to show their support for Mourinho.

The visit of Dynamo Kiev for Champions League duty on Wednesday was a welcome distraction from their domestic woes, but it was a victory that hardly put paid to suggestions that they have turned a corner. Willian, perhaps the only Chelsea player to enhance his reputation in this crisis, was the hero again as his 83rd-minute free kick snatched a 2-1 win.

However, it has been a case of one step forward and two steps back too often for Chelsea, and even the most optimistic supporter would not assume that the win over Dynamo is a signal that the crisis is over.

Mourinho will not be present at the Britannia due to his one-match stadium ban, and the visitors' performance should prove whether they are really ready to fight for their manager.

Recent form: WDLWLL
Recent form (all competitions): WDLLLW


Team News

Radamel Falcao of Chelsea celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on August 29, 2015© Getty Images

Geoff Cameron is expected to return for Stoke after missing the previous two games with a thigh injury.

Defender Bardsley will also come back into the matchday squad after serving out a one-match ban at St James' Park last weekend.

For Chelsea, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and striker Radamel Falcao will miss the trip to the Potteries through injury, but fit-again Pedro and right-back Branislav Ivanovic will return.

Stoke City possible starting lineup:
Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters; Whelan, Adam; Shaqiri, Bojan, Cameron; Walters

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Begovic; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Costa


Head To Head

With Chelsea in the middle of a full-blown crisis, the Blues need all the omens that they can get. History does suggest that victory lies on the horizon come Saturday, though, with Chelsea losing just two and drawing two of their last 18 meetings with City. They have won the last three Premier League encounters by an aggregate score of 7-1, with Stoke's last league victory coming in a 3-2 win in December 2013.


Video Preview

Hit play below to see what the Sports Mole Sofa had to say about this encounter:


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We say: Stoke City 2-1 Chelsea

The Blues quite simply cannot be relied on to leave Stoke with the much-needed win come Saturday. They have been too unpredictable, too erratic all season long, and we reckon that Hughes and co will add to their woes - but only just.


Who will win Saturday's clash at the Britannia?

Stoke City
Draw
Chelsea
Stoke City
32.6%
Draw
13.5%
Chelsea
54.0%
Arouna Kone of Everton celebrates scoring his side's fifth goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Sunderland at Goodison Park on November 1, 2015 in Liverpool, England.
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