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Stoke City vs. Chelsea, Premier League: Three keys to the match for Antonio Conte

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Stoke City v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

1. Hazard health, fitness

Since Eden Hazard started midweek against Nottingham Forest, it would be safe to assume that he’s back to full fitness. But given that he played the full game (the only first-team regular other than Gary Cahill to do so), should he start alongside Alvaro Morata and either Pedro or Willian in Chelsea's attack, with two tougher games on tap in the next seven days?

“I’m pleased for Eden because in the last game he played very well. He played with great intensity. Now he has overcome his injury and we have to play three games so, yes, there is the possibility to pick him.”

-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC

Another factor to consider is Pedro’s ankle injury that he picked up against Arsenal, though according to Antonio Conte, he should be good to play already.

"Pedro is fit for the game against Stoke on Saturday. Now it is very important to prepare. It is a very important game for us. This season Stoke have won at home against Arsenal and drawn against Manchester United. We must be ready."

-Antonio Conte; source: London Evening Standard

Whatever combination of attackers Conte chooses to use, for the first time all season he has the ability to pick the best attacking trio that he would want to. The concern over Chelsea's flexibility in multiple tournaments remains, but nevertheless Hazard's return to full fitness gives Conte all his weapons.

West Bromwich Albion v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

2. Stoke's lack of centre backs

After a plethora of injuries and Kurt Zouma's inability to play against his parent club, Mark Hughes, who has been preferring a Conte-esque three-man defensive setup, has but one centre back available for selection.

Chelsea should be able to feast on this particularly glaring gap, especially with Álvaro Morata heading home everything in sight.

If Hughes has to draft some of his more experienced fullbacks in as centre backs (Glen Johnson and Erik Pieters), Chelsea could also find plenty of joy on the wings, to complement attacking play through the middle via either Fàbregas or Bakayoko as well as Azpilicueta’s sudden propensity for accurate crossing from deep.

Chelsea v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Semi Final Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

3. Squad management

Since Hazard and Bakayoko are both ready to play as much as Antonio Conte wants them to, the Chelsea boss now has almost his entire squad ready to play and rotate as he sees fit. (Danny Drinkwater and David Luiz will both be available for Premier League action only after the international break, though David Luiz will be able to play against Atlético before then as well.)

In the next seven days Chelsea play Stoke City, Atlético Madrid, and Manchester City, a pretty tough stretch of games that will be a test to Chelsea’s squad depth. Fortunately, there are plenty of moves and combinations and strategies available to Conte, should he choose to utilize them.

This game and this week overall should prove good insight into whether Conte does actually trust his squad when it matters (and not just in easy games like Qarabag or Nottingham Forest).