Fresh from new disappointment, one of the last places Rafa Benitez would have wanted to take his Chelsea side would have been the Britannia Stadium.
Stoke are notoriously tough at home, although they have won just one game out of their last six. A victory against Chelsea would go a long way toward restoring some confidence in the side.
Here’s the background to the game and what to expect from its 90 minutes.
Where: Britannia Stadium, Stoke, England
When: Saturday, Jan. 12 at 10 a.m. ET
Stoke face an uphill battle here. Not just with Chelsea, but with history. Stoke have never beaten the Blues in 37 years, although they managed a draw last season.
The home side will feel that now is the best opportunity they have had in years. An under-fire Chelsea manager, coupled with a string of inconsistent performances, makes the London side vulnerable.
Stoke haven’t started the year well, but are unlikely to change their game for this fixture. They have managed just three goals in nine games against Chelsea, so it’s unreasonable to expect them to commit themselves to attack.
Instead, they will concentrate on stemming the tide, with new Chelsea recruit Demba Ba having four goals to his name when playing the Potters.
Ryan Shawcross recently signed a new contract that committed his future to the club, and he will need to bring a commanding performance to a back four that could find itself under constant threat.
Following Chelsea’s 2-0 home defeat to Swansea in the FA Cup, the pressure is increasing on Benitez. Roman Abramovich is not a patient man, so Benitez is running out of chances with each disappointing performance.
The Spaniard left Ba out of the side for the Swansea game and Torres was unable to find the net. It’s essential that he doesn’t repeat that mistake this time around, as another loss here would sink his ambition yet further.
Benitez had some good news for Chelsea fans this week, as he hinted that John Terry could return to the side in this fixture, via The Guardian.
John Terry has been training and we are considering playing him on Thursday with the under-21 team. The good thing he is now training so now he can carry on. We will see how he feels on Thursday and hopefully he can play more minutes in the short-term so we will see.
It depends on his reaction. Obviously Thursday will be a different kind of game but we will see how he feels. If he can feel OK and train the day after, at least we can start considering him as an option.
Although it’s unlikely Terry will have much to do in this game, his mere presence would be enough to strengthen the resolve of Chelsea.
Who's your money on?
With both teams struggling to find form, this one could be defined by mistakes rather than superlative play. Coming to the Britannia is always a battle, and this game will be no different.
Stoke have made a habit of scoring early, so look for them to rock Benitez’s team with a goal within the first 10 minutes. Chelsea recover before halftime with a goal from Ba, and the second half peters out into a defensive stalemate.
Stoke 1-1 Chelsea