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Predicted Chelsea lineup against Stoke: Conte to play through calf injury

Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Antonio Conte's calf injury is not expected to keep him out from Saturday's end-of-year showdown at Stamford Bridge against Stoke City, though it might restrict his usual sideline movements.  The Chelsea head coach picked up the injury during training this week — his "hands-on approach coming back to bite him", to quote the wordsmiths over at the Daily Mail — but apparently it's nothing serious.

What is serious is Chelsea going for a 13th win in a row on Saturday, against Stoke City, and doing so with pretty much a full squad.  After a couple weeks of mild uncertainty over who might or might not start, predicting the lineup for this game seems a much more straightforward proposition.

The two big absentees on Boxing Day, N'Golo Kanté and Diego Costa are both back and should slot straight back in for this one.  Given Pedro's enforced absence through suspension and Oscar's departure to China, the rest of the attack picks itself.  Similarly, barring any last-minute injuries or other unforeseen events — not sure when Conte's supposed to address the media next — there should be no question about who the wingbacks, the defense, and the goalkeeper will be.

The only non-obvious choice is in midfield next to N'Golo Kanté with both Nemanja Matić and Cesc Fàbregas putting in good performances lately.  They both played on Boxing Day, but given Stoke's expected physicality, I think it will be Matić who retains his starting spot, with Cesc becoming the game-changing option off the bench should we need him.  Which could be a problem if Matić picks up a yellow card and thus gets suspended for Spurs on Wednesday, but that's just the risk I'm willing to take.

Courtois | Cahill, David Luiz, Azpilicueta | Alonso, Matić, Kanté, Moses | Hazard, Costa, Willian

The community's preference reflects a similar approach and conundrum, but Cesc wins out instead by about 100 votes.  Perhaps the yellow card danger for Matić player a part here (as it might have in David Luiz's reduced numbers), or maybe the thinking is that Cesc's passing could make a big difference from the start.

Courtois (99%) | Cahill (91%), David Luiz (89%), Azpilicueta (99%) | Alonso (97%), Fàbregas (56%), Kanté (99%), Moses (97%) | Hazard (99%), Costa (98%), Willian (87%)

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