Guus Hiddink says Chelsea will not have one eye on the UEFA Champions League when they face Stoke City on Saturday.
The Potters' visit to Stamford Bridge this weekend kickstarts a pivotal week in Chelsea's season. After entertaining Mark Hughes' side, the Blues come up against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday before facing Everton in the FA Cup three days later.
Hiddink says his approach will be to take it game by game, meaning playing Stoke is the top of his priorities.
"Of course, we have the upcoming two games on our mind but—and it’s a big but—we take all Premier League games very seriously, and we will have the same approach [against Stoke].
"We will not allow us to make this a pre-game for Wednesday. This is not good for the team. We must stay in the dynamic of the last weeks.
"If you put your focus too far away, even if it’s just four or seven days, it’s not good."
The dynamic of recent weeks that Hiddink was referring to in his Friday news conference has seen Chelsea win three Premier League games on the bounce. That's been their best run of form all season, so the logic stands that the manager doesn't want his team to lose momentum.
Saturday's game sees the league's two form sides come to blows, too. As well as Chelsea's recent good form, Stoke themselves are enjoying something of a purple patch. Having lost three straight league games in early February, Hughes' men have flipped the form guide on its head with three wins in a row.
The latest came in midweek when the Potters ground out a 1-0 win over Newcastle United that leaves them seventh in the table.
If Chelsea can beat Stoke, they will leapfrog them thanks to a superior goal difference. If results go their way, that could leave the Blues just five points off the top four.
It's all to play for, which is why Hiddink can't afford to juggle competitions.
How will this game end?
Date: Saturday, March 5
Time: 3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London
TV Info: Match of the Day, BBC1 (10.30pm, UK only)/NBC Sports (U.S. only)
Live Stream: No UK live stream/NBCSN (U.S. only)
Last 5 Games
|Feb. 13||Chelsea 5-1 Newcastle United|
|Feb. 16||Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Chelsea|
|Feb. 21||Chelsea 5-1 Manchester City|
|Feb. 27||Southampton 1-2 Chelsea|
|Mar. 1||Norwich City 1-2 Chelsea|
|Feb. 2||Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City|
|Feb. 6||Stoke City 0-3 Everton|
|Feb. 13||Bournemouth 1-3 Stoke City|
|Feb. 27||Stoke City 2-1 Aston Villa|
|Mar. 2||Stoke City 1-0 Newcastle United|
Stoke City FC
John Terry remains sidelined for Chelsea with the hamstring injury picked up against Newcastle United last month.
"He’s not fit to start this weekend," Hiddink explained on Friday. "He’s with the physios, and he’s also training, but he’s not with the group yet. We’ll see how it goes for Wednesday. Pedro is the same."
Kenedy is expected to miss out with a groin injury he picked up against Norwich City on Tuesday.
As for Stoke, Ryan Shawcross, Glen Johnson, Charlie Adam and Phil Bardsley are all out. Geoff Cameron remains a doubt.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Rahman; Mikel, Fabregas; Willian, Hazard, Traore; Diego Costa
Stoke City (4-1-4-1): Butland; Cameron, Muniesa, Wollscheid, Pieters; Whelan; Shaqiri, Imbula, Affelay, Arnautovic; Walters
It's not often the Spaniard gets put in this bracket, but with Stoke's wingers causing teams plenty of problems this season—especially of late—Azpilicueta is going to be vital to preventing Chelsea being bombarded in the box on Saturday.
Part of the way this team plays is to attack on the flanks before whipping balls for the likes of Jonathan Walters to attack through the middle. It's been effective in stretching opponents but also maintaining that physical element the Potters are known for.
Coming up against any of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Ibrahim Afellay, Azpilicueta will need to be at his best to help provide some defensive solidity.
Shaqiri hasn't quite impacted the Premier League in the way Stoke fans would have been hoping. We've seen flashes of his brilliance, but the consistency hasn't been there.
The Swiss is gradually getting better in that regard, though, and we saw him terrorise Newcastle United in midweek, winning the game for Stoke with a long-range goal.
Chelsea know all about what he's capable of, too. Shaqiri gave Baba Rahman a going over in the Capital One Cup tie earlier this season, and considering his recent form, the expectation is that he'll be at it again at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea need to stop the former Bayern Munich man on Saturday.
Chelsea 2-1 Stoke City
Home Win: -222
Away Win: +589
First Goalscorer: Diego Costa (7/2)