Chelsea travel to Stoke on Saturday, where the hosts drew with Manchester United in their last home fixture. They did however loose their next match away at Newcastle at the weekend 2-1. The home draw with Manchester United, although a good result, was characterised by poor defending from both sides. Shawcross has missed the two matches in question, and arguably they have missed his organisational skills back there. They have used a back three this season, although switched to a back four at half time against Manchester United when Geoff Cameron got injured. Martins Indi came on and didn’t impress. He lined up again against Newcastle, and with Zouma presumably unavailable through the terms of his loan, if Cameron and Shawcross are still out, their defence could without doubt be a weak point. Their strength in defending set-pieces seemed to have deserted them against Manchester United, and Lukaku missed a great chance to win the match when played through the central defence as both centre backs inexcusably advanced towards the ball leaving a huge whole in behind. There are indeed some clips Conte will no doubt have relished showing Pedro, Morata et al.
At the other end of the pitch they have proved a threat so far though. Shaqiri netted at the weekend, and is a very dangerous creator, and scorer. He will need to be well marshalled by our centre-backs/ midfielders, especially when he drops of to receive the ball, and looks to play in behind. Choupo-Moting scored two in their previous home fixture, and is a danger on the ball and in the air. These two will likely play either side of summer signing Jese up-front.
Stoke are unbeaten at home in the league so far this season, beating Arsenal 1-0, and drawing with Manchester United and West Brom. Their home form is likely to be key again as they haven’t started well on the road. This, as it often has been for us, will be a tough fixture.
After drawing with Arsenal last time out in the league, it would be good to get a win here to remain close to Manchester City before we play them at home the following week, as that is an opportunity to claw some points back from them at Stamford Bridge.
It is probably likely that Conte will opt for 3-4-3 from the start, but Arsenal have shown when matching us in this shape that it has caused us problems if well organised. With Stoke possibly doing likewise here, it may be possible that the manager looks to go with a different system to gain the upper hand with a spare midfielder. This could allow us to play through the lines easier, and keep Stoke on the back foot, as possession retention would also be aided.
Last season we came away with a hard fought 1-2 win. Cahill and Willian on the score sheet. Both also found the back of the net earlier in the season in the 4-2 home victory against Stoke. Willian scoring twice. Willian has been in great form of late, but could have a fight on his hands to retain his place in the starting line-up, with Hazard returning to full fitness. Given his performances against Stoke last season, coupled with his recent form, Willian should maybe be given the nod from the off here.
Stretching the oppositions under staffed backline could be key here. If we can pull them higher up the pitch and make use of the space in behind we will have a good chance of scoring. Morata’s movement in the box should be all to much for Martins Indi, so getting Moses and Alonso forward and providing crosses into the box should also be in the game plan. Especially as Shaqiri and Choupo Moting are not in the side based on their defensive abilities. Stoke have shown before that they are good at holding onto leads at home, so the first goal could be key here.