Chelsea faces a critical task when they travel to Britannia Stadium to take on Stoke City. The Blues are in need of a win to keep up with Tottenham on the table, but will have to earn it against a scrappy Stoke squad that is capable of playing at a high level at times.
The Blues have been up-and-down this season. They have appeared to be a top-tier club at times while looking utterly complacent and overrated at other times.
Coming off of a disappointing loss to Swansea and a loss earlier this month to Queens Park Rangers, the time is now for the Blues to turn things around.
Stoke are a very good defensive squad—they've held opponents to 20 goals in 21 matches this season and are a difficult team to mount offense against. Fortunately for Chelsea, they aren't a very offensive squad—they've scored 21 goals on the campaign.
This is a matchup that Chelsea should win if they are able to play up to their ability. Here are the key players to watch as Chelsea tries to garner momentum for the rest of the season.
All eyes should be on the latest member of Chelsea and how manager Rafa Benitez decides to use him.
Ba made his Chelsea debut in a 5-1 blowout victory over Southampton in which he scored two goals. Despite Ba's tremendous first game, he was left out of the starting XI against Swansea and wasn't brought on until late.
Given Chelsea's inability to score any goals with Fernando Torres in the lineup instead of Ba, one has to wonder what kind of opportunity Ba will get against Stoke's staunch defense and how he handles those opportunities.
Should he be featured, it could be another breakout performance that establishes him as the striker of the future.
You can't talk about Ba without bringing up Torres.
For the time being it seems that Benitez is set on Torres being the focal point of the Chelsea attack, but fans' patience has to be wearing thin. With a promising player like Ba on the sideline, Torres needs to start scoring goals with regularity soon or he will play himself out of the lineup for good or damage his stock with potential destinations in the future.
Despite 47 shots this season, Torres has only seven goals and is no longer an elite scorer for the team. Benitez's approval can only go so far, and if Torres doesn't improve quickly, there will be no more excuses for him to remain the starter over Ba.
Blues fans could see captain John Terry in action for the first time since November.
According to a report from ESPN, Terry is expected to travel with the team to Stoke and could find his way into the match off the bench after competing in an under-21 game on Thursday.
Terry's return has to be good news as the team has struggled without him in the lineup and his leadership and experience will be invaluable if the Blues want to make a turnaround from their recent poor play.
Terry may not see a ton of action, but his impact is definitely worth keeping an eye on as the Blues look to get an important win on the road.