Chelsea travel to Stoke City looking for their third consecutive win in what Jose Mourinho has dubbed “the SSS week,” via the official Chelsea website. Some dodgy defending made their win against Sunderland a lot more difficult than it needed to be, as Mourinho mentioned in his post-match comments on the Chelsea website.
We played a phenomenal game, our best game away from home. There was top quality, great creativity in the three attacking players behind Fernando (Torres) and beautiful goals. Even the fourth goal was a great counter-attack. The game is about that, but it's also about basic things, and we failed in those basic things. The most basic is to defend set-plays. In a game where we should win clearly because of the way we played, we had a risk until the last second.
The Special One will be aware of the threat posed by Stoke City’s physically strong side and will likely line his team up in a 4-3-3 to counter this threat.
Ashley Cole was sidelined by injury and has remained on the bench due to the excellent performances that Cesar Azpilicueta has put in. The Spaniard’s speed and strength should see him retain his place, with Cole likely to return to the side against Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League next week.
David Luiz’s bruised patella has left Mourinho with little option but to stick with the centre-half pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill, while Branislav Ivanovic has secured his place at right-back.
As the most defensive of Chelsea’s midfielders, John Obi Mikel should start against Stoke as a shield for the defence. If Oscar is available, he should replace Frank Lampard in the starting XI. Despite the 35-year-old’s fine form, it is clear that he struggles to play 90 minutes twice a week.
This leaves Mourinho knowing that one of his substitutions will need to be made to replace Lampard’s tired legs, whereas a fully fit Oscar can see out the match.
Oscar has played in a deeper central midfield role for Brazil to great acclaim, and would make the perfect player for the pivot, leaving Ramires to cover the box-to-box role with his pace and stamina.
It was his best performance playing for me. We know about the talent, but for the first time under me he showed ambition from the first to the last minute, He has great talent but sometimes he can disappear from games. Today, he was fantastic - getting the ball, attacking defenders, shooting. Him, Mata and Willian were creative and dynamic. They gave to the team what they needed in terms of creation.
Chelsea supporters will be pleased that Mourinho has noticed Hazard’s tendency to drift in and out of some matches, but his two spectacular goals as well as an assist for Lampard’s equaliser will surely see him keep his place in the side.
Juan Mata’s performances in the two games since he returned to the starting XI have shown why so many people were scratching their heads during his absence. Alongside three shots and eight key passes, he has made four successful tackles in his last two starts and should get a good run in the side.
Fernando Torres was not at his best against Sunderland, but with Samuel Eto’o not quite ready to return following a muscle injury, the Spaniard is still the first-choice striker at Chelsea. However, if he misses chances as easy as the open goal at the Stadium of Light, Demba Ba will join the game at the earliest opportunity.
The squad will be heavily rotated in the coming weeks as the Christmas schedule begins to pile up and Chelsea look to close the gap on league leaders Arsenal. If this XI can take all three points back to London Saturday, it will increase the pressure on the Gunners, which host Everton Sunday night.