Before saying goodbye to 2017 — a year that, lest we forget, included another Premier League title-winning party at Stamford Bridge — and saying hello to 2018, Chelsea take on struggling Stoke City, who are still managed by former Chelsea and Manchester United star Mark Hughes.
But this season so far has been probably the worst of Sparky’s 4.5-year stint in the Potteries (incidentally, that’s the 11th longest tenure among the 92 clubs of the Premier League and the Football League). Stoke are just three points (albeit five places) above relegation and have average exactly 1 win per month in the league so far. They fulfilled December’s quota with a 3-1 beating of West Brom last weekend, their only win in their last and second in their last ten. Stoke also face a very quick turnaround, with a home game against Newcastle, a relegation fight six-pointer, following immediately on Monday, which has prompted Hughes to hint at using the youth this weekend.
“We are in a really difficult position it is fair to say, and we may be forced into calling upon a couple of our younger players, who will have to come in and do a job for us. It is going to be a big ask, because even with our best XI this would be incredibly tough, but we will still go down there, be positive and give it a real good go.”
-Mark Hughes; source: Stoke City FC
All signs thus point to an easy win for Chelsea, who have been in pretty good form despite struggling a bit to convert chances in front of goal. But there are no easy games in the Premier League, as the not-wrong-by-definition cliche goes, so it’s time to work, pay great attention, and win all three points.
Date / Time: Saturday, December 30, 2017, 15:00 GMT; 10am EST; 8:30pm IST
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Kevin Friend — Kevin not my friend is back for a second time this season (and this month) after Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Newcastle at the start of December.
Forecast: Not terribly cold, but cloudy, windy and probably rainy, too.
On TV: none (UK); CNBC (USA); Star Sports Select HD2 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: NBC Sports Live Extra (USA); Hotstar (India); talkSport 2 (UK radio); Chelsea TV (int’l radio)
Chelsea team news: Antonio Conte is due to address the media Friday afternoon, so he might provide an update on the status of Andreas Christensen, who missed Tuesday’s game with a bout of some unspecified illness. Presumably he will be good to go by tomorrow. Same probably won’t be the case for David Luiz or Charly Musonda.
Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Brighton was the Blues’ fifth in a row without defeat and brought Conte’s men to within one point of second place. Manchester City may be running away with the title, but there’s plenty left to fight for in the Premier League still.
Stoke City team news: In addition to fixture congestion, Stoke are dealing with a minor defensive crisis as Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi are both out, Kurt Zouma is ineligible to face his parent club, and Erik Pieters is facing a late fitness test. Already leading the league with 41 goals conceded, Stoke could be in for a long day (through with Chelsea’s recent conversion rate issues, perhaps not).
In addition, the Potters are also dealing with long-term injuries to Jesé Rodriguez, Glen Johnson, and Stephen Ireland.
Previously: Chelsea are almost perfect at home against Stoke in the Premier League, with 8 wins and 1 draw in the 9 meetings since 1992 (well, since 2008-09). This fixture fell on the final days of the calendar year last year, too, with Chelsea winning a wild one at 4-2, our record-equalling 13th win in a row. Chelsea have won twice away since, including earlier this season when Morata’s hat-trick powered an easy 4-0.