Venue – Bet365 Stadium
Time – 15:00 P:M GMT
Date – 19 March 2017
Stoke showed with their 0-0 draw at Manchester City in their last game that they are capable of digging in against the top teams, but I don’t see them holding out against Chelsea.
This is another hurdle for the Blues in their title bid, but I think it is one they will clear comfortably. Whatever Stoke can throw at Chelsea, I think they will deal with it.
There is nothing remotely fragile about Antonio Conte’s team at all.
What has been significant for Chelsea is how few injuries they have had, which is very similar to Leicester last season.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defenders Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill, who are part of their solid three-man back-line, are all ever-presents in the Premier League, and David Luiz has only missed one league game since he rejoined the club at the end of August.
They have had minor injuries and suspensions here and there, of course, but they have a core of players that have featured in most of their matches – only 13 different players have started Chelsea’s 21 league games since 24 September.
Over the whole season, 10 of their squad have started 21 or more Premier League games out of a total of 27 so far. Apart from them, Cesc Fabregas, Willian and Pedro have come in and out of the team on a regular basis when needed, and John Terry has started four times, but not since mid-September.
The only other players to begin games in the league this season, Oscar and Branislav Ivanovic, also made their last league starts in September before Conte switched to a 3-4-3 formation – and both left in January.
Chelsea have got to drop points at some point and Stoke is a tough place to go however Chelsea will be too strong for Stoke. Stoke City have won only two of their 17 Premier League meetings with Chelsea (D3 L12), with both victories arriving at the Bet365 Stadium.
Chelsea have recorded just two wins in their last seven visits to Stoke in all competitions (D3 L2) – 2-0 in December 2014 and 4-0 in January 2013. Cesc Fabregas has assisted seven goals in eight Premier League starts against Stoke, with the Spaniard also netting two in the process.
Indeed, only against Spurs (11) has Fabregas provided more assists in the Premier League than versus Stoke (7). Willian notched his first ever Premier League brace in the reverse fixture, equalling his goal tally for last season in the competition (5).
However, the Brazilian has failed to score in eight league appearances since that game.
Diego Costa’s next Premier League goal will be his 50th in the competition and would be the 7th Chelsea player to reach that milestone for the club.
If Costa does score in this game, he will have reached 50 goals in 80 Premier League appearances. The only players to do this in fewer games were Andrew Cole (65), Alan Shearer (66), Ruud van Nistelrooy (68) and Fernando Torres (72). Chelsea have used the fewest players (21) and made the fewest changes to their starting XI overall (24) this season in the Premier League.
Antonio Conte has used every substitution possible in the Premier League this season (81/81). The only side in Premier League history to have done this in a whole 38-game season were Manchester City in 2014-15 (114/114).
This will be the 13th occasion that Stoke have played against a team placed top of the Premier League on the day of the game.
Of the previous 12, they have won just once – versus Manchester City in December 2015 (W1 D2 L9).