The Blues head to The Britannia on Saturday to take on Stoke City, a fixture which has been pretty kind to Chelsea in the past. We have to go back to 1995 to find the last time that the London side lost to Stoke, while it was April of 1975 the last time we lost at their stadium or in league play. Jose Mourinho's side will be looking to pull within a point of the top of the table, as league leading Arsenal don't take the pitch against Everton until Sunday. A win would put the Blues in an excellent position to be atop the table come Christmas, and that would certainly make most of us smile.
The three set piece goals conceded to Sunderland on Wednesday are especially worrying ahead of this one, as Stoke have a big, physical team that will be looking to capitalize on set piece opportunities. They'll likely defend deep and narrow, and the bulk of their open-play attacking will come from wide players firing balls into the box. For all the danger they create when attacking set pieces, Stoke have been surprisingly poor in defending them this year. They've also been very prone to fouling players in dangerous areas, something Chelsea should be able to take advantage of with their merry band of hobbits.
Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, and Gary Cahill should all be key players tomorrow, both defending and attacking set pieces. I'd also expect to see John Obi Mikel starting, as he provides a little additional help when defending Stoke's attacking style. Up front, one of Juan Mata or Kevin De Bruyne would be a real asset to the team, as their set piece deliveries are superior to most of their Chelsea teammates. I'd also think this might be a good game for Frank Lampard to be used, as his ability to find space in the back of the 18-yard box combined with his additional scoring threat from free kicks would be useful.
Opponent: Stoke City, currently sitting 14th on 14 points with a GD of -6
Venue/Location: Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent, England
Date/Time: Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 15:00 GMT (10:00 am EST, 7:00 am PST, 20:30 IST)
Forecast: The Weather Channel is predicting very reasonable temperatures with no precipitation for our trip to Stoke-on-Trent. I guess we'll have to wait another year for that rainy Tuesday night...
Chelsea FC Squad News: Both Marco van Ginkel and David Luiz have been ruled out of this fixture, though neither would have likely been selected against a physical Stoke City side at The Britannia anyway. Oscar and Samuel Eto'o have both been dealing with injuries of their own, but Jose Mourinho indicated that both are possibilities.
I'd be fairly surprised to see Oscar risked for this one, as risking further injury against a very physical midfield seems pointless with our other available options. I'd be far less surprised to see Samuel Eto'o involved, as his movement without the ball could prove troublesome for the Stoke back four.
Stoke City Squad News: Stoke have some injury issues that will force changes to their starting lineup, as all of Robert Huth, Marko Arnautovic, and Matthew Etherington will be out of action. Erik Pieters also faces a fitness test ahead of the match, and seems unlikely to feature.
Television/Streaming: In the US, the game can be seen on NBC Sports Live Extra or Premier League Extra Time. In the UK, Chelsea fans will have to rely on the live audio stream from Chelsea TV. Indian fans will be able to watch on Star Sports 1 HD, while everyone else can check here for their listings.