Who: Stoke City FC at Chelsea FC
What: English Premier League
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England
When: Saturday, September 22, 2012
Weather: The Weather Channel Forecast
Time: 3 p.m. BST/10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT
TV: Fox Soccer Channel (USA)
Radio: SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 92
Two-Way Odds: Chelsea -1½ +115, Stoke City +1½ -135
Three-Way Odds: Chelsea -300, Stoke City +850, Draw +400
Total: Over 2½ -145, Under 2½ +125
Source: LVH SuperBook, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
After squandering away a 2-0 lead against Juventus in its UEFA Champions League group stage opener on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge and having to settle for a 2-2 draw, Chelsea welcomes Stoke City to west London on Saturday in an English Premier League match.
Stoke City enters the game in 12th place in the league table with a 0-4-0 record and is just the second team in the Premiership to open its season with four straight draws since Crystal Palace did so in 1992-93.
The Potters have scored just four goals this season, with three of those four coming from set pieces, while Chelsea has eight goals and heads into this match still on top of the EPL with a 3-1-0 mark.
In its last four visits to The Bridge, Stoke have been held scoreless and have only scored three times in eight meetings with the Blues so the opening odds in this match reflect the dominance Chelsea have showed this season.
Manager Tony Pulis and Stoke City have a number of new faces on the squad this season, including Charlie Adam (from Liverpool), Maurice Edu ( from Rangers), Michael Kightly (from Wolverhampton Wanderers) and Steven N'Zonzi (from Blackburn), but the guy the Blues need to worry about is the 6’7” forward Peter Crouch who has two of the Potters' four goals this season.
Chelsea is also coming off a somewhat disappointing 0-0 draw at QPR last weekend and although Oscar netted his first two goals for the Blues in Wednesday’s draw against Juventus, the offense is still far from playing as a cohesive unit.
When these two teams last met in March in west London, manager Roberto Di Matteo earned his first victory after replacing Andre Villas Boas in a 1-0 win in which Didier Drogba scored his 100th EPL goal against Stoke, who finished the match with 10 players.
Stoke, who was handed its worst-ever league loss two years ago by the Blues in this fixture (7-0), drew 0-0 with Chelsea in last season’s first meeting between the two clubs at the Britannia Stadium.
All relevant trends point to a Chelsea win in this match who is 8-2-0 in its last 10 matches in all competitions versus the Potters and 8-2-1 in its last 11 games at Stamford Bridge.
The Potters have been fairly anemic on the road as of late, going winless in its last 11 league matches (0-5-6) and scoring just six goals during that stretch.
So, with a solid defense, which has allowed just two goals in four league matches to date, and the always consistent Petr Cech in goal, Chelsea should find a way to capture the three points here and hold on to its spot atop the league table.
But like all league contests, this opponent cannot be taken lightly and Stoke would love nothing more than to get its first win of the season, as well as its first victory in its last 12 EPL matches, against a heavy like the Blues who it hasn’t defeated in ages.
A couple things to watch is whether or not Oscar has earned at least a spot in the starting XI for this fixture with his performance mid-week and if Fernando Torres is still seemingly bitter after trudging down the tunnel when replaced by Daniel Sturridge in the QPR match.
Manager Di Matteo tried to downplay the Torres incident in an interview with ESPN:
“We can't put too much pressure on one player...We are a team and everybody has responsibility. We're looking for other players to score goals as well," the Italian manager said.
"I think it's a team sport. I wouldn't individually go player by player. I thought, as a team, we played well, our center forward worked very hard, he had a chance in the first half to score, as well as a half-decent chance in the second half."
So RDM knows how to keep the fire from getting out of hand in the media but can he find a way behind the scenes to help right the enigmatic ship that has now become Fernando Torres?
A home match against Stoke may be the best prescription to help El Nino’s confidence but if the Spaniard doesn’t find his form real soon, management may be best served to go out and try to get another striker like Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao in the winter transfer window, as well as give Sturridge and possibly Victor Moses and/or Lucas Piazon some minutes in the spot to see how they fare.
Another weakness for the Blues seems to be in the holding midfield and although this match may not be the time or place to experiment, moving David Luiz there to see how he does and letting defenders Gary Cahill, Ryan Bertrand, Paulo Ferreira and Cesar Azpilicueta get some valuable playing time may help when the Champions League and EPL competition gets even tougher later this season.
After playing two straight disappointing matches, I think the defending European champions will find a way to win this one on home soil with the dynamic duo of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard either creating or scoring at least two goals.
And one thing is certain: Should the Blues slip up and lose this one, all hell will break loose in the press, but expect Chelsea to temporarily snap out of this mini-funk and regain a little confidence ahead of its last two September matches on the schedule—hosting Wolverhampton Wanderers in Round 3 of the Capital One Cup (September 25) and at Arsenal (September 29) in the EPL in what certainly promises to be an exciting London showdown.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 3 Stoke City 1
BET: Chelsea -300
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