Don't look now, but we're quickly approaching the end of what at one point or another looked like a never-ending nightmare of a season. In fact, there are barely a handful of matches left at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea.
Not counting Wednesday's Champions League Round of 16 second leg against PSG (and any other potential European ties that might follow should we mount a comeback), Chelsea are down to just 5 home games for the season. And all of them are set to be important in one way or another, with Chelsea facing teams from the current top 7 in each one. If we are to make a charge up the Premier League to the European spots, a charge that looked quite unlikely just a couple games ago, the table could not be set any better. (Meanwhile, our remaining away matches are almost all against potential relegation candidates.)
Assuming we can maintain a Fortress Stamford Bridge, that's 9 winnable games, plus a trip to Anfield. How far could 68 points get us? Do we dare to dream? Or am I just having sudden delusions of grandeur only to once again quickly learn that it's the hope that kills ya?
(Well, "learn", until the next time hope springs.)
Date / Time: Saturday, March 5, 2016, 15:00 GMT; 10am EST; 8:30pm IST
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Mark Clattenburg — a surprisingly low-key match for Mr. Limelight. We've won two (WBA away, Arsenal away) and lost two (Liverpool home, Leicester away) with Clatts this season
Forecast: Cold and possibly rainy.
On TV: none (UK); Premier League Extra time (USA); Star Sports 4 / HD 4 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: NBC Sports Live Extra, NBC Deportes En Vivo Extra (USA); Star Sports (India); Chelsea TV (int'l; radio)
Chelsea team news: No team in the league collected more points so far in 2016 than the Blues. A 12-match unbeaten run in the Premier League has seen Chelsea rise from 1 point above the relegation zone to 7 points away from European qualification. When Mourinho was sacked, Chelsea had 15 points from 16 games. We've gained 24 in the 12 since. Correlation? Causation? Coincidence? Whatever it is, it's working.
After rotating the squad for Tuesday's win against Norwich City, Guus Hiddink is expected to return to a more familiar lineup for this game. He's already confirmed a start for Diego Costa, while the likes of Mikel and Willian and Fàbregas should be there once again from the start. Meanwhile, Pedro and John Terry are unlikely to pass their fitness tests, and should miss out alongside long-term absentees Kurt Zouma and Radamel Falcao. Falcao did supposedly return to training yesterday, for whatever that's worth. And we're still on Pato-debut watch (and Miazga, too).
Stoke City team news: After losing five games in a row over the period of just two weeks, Stoke have rediscover form and belief with three straight league wins, albeit against fairly crap opposition. Still, they sit 7th and given the potential of their skill players, the possibility of a third win in three against Chelsea this season should not be discounted.
Unfortunately for manager Mark Hughes, the Potters are facing a bit of an injury crisis in defense, with Ryan Shawcross, Glen Johnson, Phil Bardsley, Geoff Cameron, and Marc Wilson all expected to miss out. Stoke Rugby Club's Charlie Adam will also be sidelined with a calf strain. I'm sure we all feel very sorry for him.
For more on Stoke City and their mostly non-Stoke-y ways, be sure to check out our opposition analysis.
Previously: Last season's corresponding fixture saw the good guys win 2-1 despite that ridiculous goal from the aforementioned Adam.