Just a short week ago, Chelsea had recaptured some of their missing form and were heading to West Bromwich on a high. Now... not so much. A FA Cup replay victory against Birmingham City hasn't really lifted the mood following the 1-0 loss inflicted by the Baggies and the subsequent sacking of manager Andre Villas-Boas. The target for this season is at least a fourth place finish, so interim boss Roberto di Matteo will be throwing all his resources at a winnable game here. Can we pick up three points and begin to right the ship?
Game Date/Time: Saturday, March 10th, 3:00 PM GMT (10:00 AM EST).
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London.
TV: FOX Soccer Channel (USA).
John Terry is expected to return to the starting lineup following his rapid recovery from a knee problem that was supposed to keep him out for several weeks more, but Jose Bosingwa is still not yet fit to return to his place right back, a condition that will presumably persist even when the Portuguese recovers from his hamstring problem. Roberto di Matteo rested several players for the win against Birmingham, but is expected to go with a team mostly approximating full strength here.
Stoke are in pretty good shape. Their last match was a 1-0 win against Norwich City that saw the Potters rise into ninth place, and as far as I know don't have any major injuries to deal with. This is a very short paragraph.
I'm going to admit to a very weird fetish here: I really like Stoke. Many people do not, and that's cool and all, but one of the aspects I enjoy about football is the stylistic clashes it offers, and Stoke embody fire and blood in a way that's actually effective. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of Tonypullisball, but at least it's an ethos.
Anyway, we know what we're getting here. Stoke will seek to bypass the midfield through positive, direct pay via long balls or through the wings, they'll defend in a compact, fairly narrow block, and they'll give us major problems on set pieces and throws. The way Stoke are set up means that a 4-2-3-1 is probably the appropriate response, if only to avoid overloading Ashley Cole at right back - dropping a Florent Malouda or a Salomon Kalou in front of him is probably a better idea than using Juan Mata in a role where any sort of defensive responsibility whatsoever is called for.
Of course, the problem with using a double pivot with Mata as a number ten is that you're then faced with trying to accommodate about six midfielders into two spots, including some that have a habit of sulking when they're not selected. I think I might 'solve' (ish) this issue by playing Ramires in the third band, where Daniel Sturridge normally lives, and place the England forward on the left and see if that helps him with the whole passing business. Frank Lampard (or Oriol Romeu or John Obi Mikel or Raul Meireles) and Michael Essien could then sit in front of the defence and control the flow of the game.
The return of John Terry means that I'd drop Gary Cahill to the bench, but I would say that because I adore David Luiz. If you wanted to play Cahill due to his aerial ability in open play and set pieces, I'd be ok with that, although the creativity from the back that David Luiz offers would obviously be lost.
We've got a pretty good record against Stoke at Stamford Bridge, but we had a pretty good record against West Brom too and that didn't go so well. Anyway, we have to win, and I don't like depressing myself, so a win it shall be.