Chelsea, despite their world-class options, are like every other team in the Premier League—they hate going to Stoke.
Known for direct play and brute strength, Stoke City are England's hard man. Forged under Tony Pulis, and now attempting a restructuring of sorts under Mark Hughes, taking three points at the Britannia Stadium is easier thought than accomplished.
Jose Mourinho has two options when selecting his XI for Monday's clash: The Portuguese can send a team to "play football" or he can attempt to match Stoke's physicality.
Last season, Mourinho attempted the former option, starting Ramires, Andre Schurrle, Eden Hazard, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata. Eventually losing a back-and-forth 3-2 thriller in the dying moments, Chelsea might look to use the latter approach this term.
Though some sections of this game will have flowing football about them, Mourinho must decide in key areas where to bolster his XI. The double pivot of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas is an automatic choice, and the decisions start from there.
Playing Fabregas on the right of the pivot leaves gaps when he attacks, Matic is capable of filling them when the Blues lose possession, but Mourinho may try to add pace on the right wing to counteract the Spaniard's forward movements. The first option appears Willian, but the Chelsea boss could be tempted to start Schurrle—as he scored both Chelsea goals vs. the Potters last year.
Centrally, Mourinho—depending on the right wing—has two options. If he opts for Schurrle, then it opens possibilities for Willian to play the "No. 10" role, with Hazard on his left. Should Willian play on the right, then Oscar seems a likely choice in central attacking midfield. Possibly wanting Schurrle's creativity and goalscoring prowess, however, seeing Oscar rested for the first 70 minutes would not shock.
Up front, Diego Costa should have a field day. His physical personality should mesh perfectly with Stoke, but the £32 million striker must keep his head. If any game has "Costa straight red card" marked on it, you might wager on Stoke City away.
Chelsea's back-four should not be tampered with. The strength and power provided by John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta is the best on offer in England.
What must be kept, though, is discipline.
Stoke will invariably camp in a low-defensive block and ask the Blues to break them down. Ivanovic will see this as an opportunity to play outside right, rather than right full-back; thus Chelsea must take notice of Stoke's counter-attacking options. Should the Blues find themselves too far forward, the likes of Bojan Krkic or Mame Biram Diouf have the requisite pace to punish.
The most interesting selection coming into this fixture for Chelsea is between the posts, as Thibaut Courtois' status for the match is unknown. Petr Cech has played well in the Belgian's absence; should there be any risk of Courtois re-injuring himself, one would expect caution to be taken with the 22-year-old.
Other than Schurrle's possible introduction—and the subsequent omission of Oscar—this Blues outfit will not drastically differ from the team we have witnessed since the season's commencement.
With Manchester City closing the distance on Saturday, there should be massive inspiration for Chelsea to maintain their three-point advantage atop the Premier League table. Given City's 1-0 loss to Stoke at the Etihad, beating the stalwart Potters at their ground would certainly be a positive message for Mourinho's men to disburse.