A trip to Stoke City tends to be a challenge on any given day. A trip without the manager on the sideline only makes things harder.
We may not always agree with him, but Mourinho's in-game adjustments are often game-savers and game-changers. Wednesday's decision to throw on Hazard and Pedro, while obvious, helped change the game in our favor, for example. Similar late-game changes gave us hope last time we visited the Britannia, when we found a stoppage time equalizer from Loic Remy in large part thanks to fellow substitute Kenedy's enterprising efforts and a shift to all-out attack. And while we ended up losing on an Eden Hazard missed penalty, we could easily consider ourselves unlucky rather than inadequate.
In addition to our improving play, we finally found some luck and some backbone in Wednesday night's win over Dynamo Kiev. Willian, who's just about the first name on the team sheet nowadays, was the hero, but contributions from Hazard, Oscar, and Zouma should not be overlooked. Fabregas had a few moments of quality as well, but they were outweighed by his general immobility and, as the game wore on, tiredness. It would not be surprising to see him dropped, as rare as such an occasion might be. A more mobile, speedy, pressing midfield and front line could be key.
Fabregas could conceivably drop deeper, but Ramires is a close second to Willian on teamsheets these days and I don't think a Ramires - Fabregas pivot would be a great idea. In the League Cup match, Mikel deputised well enough for the suspended Matic, this time, and despite the couple shaky moments and mix-ups with Terry and Begovic on Wednesday, I think Matic will get the nod.
In defense, Wednesday's match proved once again that we need Zouma at center back; whether he gets paired with Terry or Cahill is anyone's guess. My preference is for the latter. On the flanks, I'm fully expecting Ivanovic to get the start, but if he's still unavailable or not quite fit, keeping faith with Baba Rahman seems appropriate.
Given all that:
Begovic | Azpilicueta, Cahill, Zouma, Ivanovic | Matic, Ramires | Hazard, Oscar, Willian | Costa
Meanwhile, the community's preferred choice once again includes more votes for our three center backs than most of our central midfielders: 4-2-3-1:
Begovic | Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic | Matic, Zouma | Hazard, Oscar, Willian | Costa
It would appear that someone stuffed the ballot box because they've got nothing better to do in their lives than ruin everyone else's fun. I hope you're proud of yourself. Be sure to tell your grandkids.
If I try to adjust the data, I get something like this, which is basically the same thing as the predicted except with Baba instead of Ivanovic.
Begovic | Baba, Terry, Zouma, Azpilicueta | Matic, Ramires | Hazard, Oscar, Willian | Costa