Chelsea will look to end the year on a high with a Premier League win against Stoke City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, with second-place in their sights.
30 December 2017
Kick-off 17:00 CET
Venue: Stamford Bridge
Referee: K. Friend
Assistants: S. Burt, D. Eaton
Fourth official: J. Moss
TEAM MATCHES WIN DRAW LOSS
Chelsea 76 38 16 22
Stoke 76 22 16 38
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 28, 2017
Stoke City 0-4 Chelsea 23/09/2017 (Premier League)
Chelsea goalscorers: A. Morata (2’, 77’, 82’), Pedro (30’)
Players to watch:
If there’s one Chelsea player who Stoke will focus on more than the rest, it’s No.9 Alvaro Morata. Not only did the Spanish striker bag a hat-trick against them back in September, but he opened the scoring in their most recent match against Brighton and last week came off the bench to salvage a late win against Bournemouth.
With the Potters expecting chances to be few and far between, they will need to make good use of what they are given. With that in mind, the most influential player could be Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss playmaker has the kind of quality not often associated with Stoke’s no-nonsense game.
Team form and quotes:
The Blues continue to stick right on the heels of Manchester United, even as Manchester City run away with their title, despite recent setbacks such as a 1-0 loss to West Ham and goalless draw with Everton. But they bounced back from the latter with a routine 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion last weekend, and will be hoping to repeat their 4-0 win against the Potters earlier this season.
Stoke will have to watch out for the seemingly telepathic connection between Chelsea's Spanish players, who combined to score the goals against Albion. Blues wing-back Marcos Alonso starred in that game, and explained the mood in the Chelsea camp.
"You can see in the games that we have six goals with [Cesar Azpilicueta] passing to Alvaro [Morata] and it is another option for us.
"I was happy for Alvaro, he was back [from suspension] and I guess this goal gave him more confidence to keep scoring.
"We are a good group, we are working well together and we have to keep working and getting results. We need to go out there and win the three points every game and then we will see where we are at the end of the season."
Stoke, meanwhile, come into this game in 13th place on the standings, just three points from the dropzone. They have picked up four points in their last two games though with a 3-1 win over West Brom followed by a 1-1 draw with Huddersfield, after three straight losses.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes, who had a similar assessment of his opponents, also appeared happy with his side’s form in recent weeks.
"Chelsea are a good side," Hughes said. "They have continued to play well and are picking points up on a regular basis.
"They are very good at home. We know it will be difficult but we will go their looking to get something out of the game.
"We are ticking along in terms of points at the moment. We feel we will be OK in the New Year when everyone is back fit and available."
? Mark Hughes believes the productive Christmas period will stand his side in good stead heading into the New Year regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s showdown with @ChelseaFC
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) December 29, 2017
In team news, Chelsea will wait on the fitness of up-and-coming Danish defender Andreas Christensen, who is battling illness, but Brazilian centre-back David Luiz is ruled out with a knee injury.
For Stoke, their manager summarized it best. "We are missing a few," Hughes said. "We have longer term injuries with Bruno Martins Indi who is two or three weeks away. Ryan Shawcross is out for two to three weeks. Erik Pieters may have a chance. Kurt Zouma is ineligible. Glen Johnson is unavailable."