Chelsea-Stoke City Preview
Chelsea will be without their manager Saturday when the travel to the Britannia Stadium to take on Stoke City.
A one-game stadium ban administered by the FA means Jose Mourinho will not be able to attend or communicate with his players before, during or after the match at Stoke. That may or may not be a hindrance to the Blues (3-2-6) as they look to end a miserable run of results in the Premier League.
Three defeats in the last four have seen Chelsea slip 14 points off the lead and 17 off their haul at this stage of last season, all but ruling out their chances of claiming back-to-back Premier League titles.
However, there was good news for Mourinho's side in midweek as a peach of a free kick by Willian earned them all three points against Dynamo Kiev, keeping their hopes of progressing in the Champions League on track.
"Confidence is coming for us and the results are coming as well," Willian said. "We have to keep going and keep fighting on the pitch. We lost some games and it's been difficult for us but we are trying to play better. We know we have to improve more and keep going in the same way."
A feature of Wednesday evening's match was the impressive and public show of support for the under-fire Mourinho from the Chelsea fans, who displayed banners and sang songs urging the club not to bring Mourinho's second tenure at the club to an end.
"It's a fantastic feeling," Mourinho said after the game. "The players showed again they wanted to win and the fans showed their passion for the club. That's fundamentally what they showed, and then to support the club manager is a way to show their respect. It was amazing.
"The club has to be very proud of the fans. I don't have another way of thanking them except to give all I have, which I have done always and which is what I will do always."
He may be banned from the ground on matchday, but Mourinho will still train and select the side and could have defender Branislav Ivanovic back available after a hamstring injury. Thibaut Courtois and Radamel Falcao both remain on the sidelines. Hosts Stoke City will be without the services of injured defender Marc Muniesa for Chelsea's visit, but Geoff Cameron could return after recovering from a hip injury.
The Potters (3-4-4) have picked up 10 points from their last five games to recover from a disappointing start.
Manager Mark Hughes has tried to change the style of football played in the Potteries since taking charge in 2013, and the long-ball football synonymous with predecessor Tony Pulis has become a thing of the past in a squad packed with creative midfield talent.
However, not everyone is happy with the way the season has started, including striker Peter Crouch, who has featured for less than an hour in total and yet to start any of the club's 11 games.
"It's been frustrating, there's no denying that, but what else can I do?" the 34-year-old Crouch admitted. "I think the fans and everybody connected to the club know I will do everything, given the chance, and try and change the manager's mind.
"Obviously we spoke and sometimes it can be frustrating. You give your opinion, but I think every player goes through it and certainly at our club we've got quality players. We brought more in during the summer and I always knew this season would be similar to this."
Stoke may be playing more attractive football under Hughes, but goals have still been in short supply, and their season haul of nine is a league low.
Scoring has also been a problem in head-to-head games against Chelsea for Stoke in their top-flight era. They have failed to find the back of the net in nine of their 14 all-time Premier League meetings with the Blues.
The visitors may have picked up some confidence from their midweek win, but this has been the worst 11-game start to a title defence in the history of the Premier League. The Blues have already conceded more goals than they did in the entirety of their first title-winning campaign under Mourinho in 2004-05, and only Sunderland have allowed their opponents more shots on goal than Chelsea this season.
Defeat for Chelsea will be the first time that the club have lost seven of their first 12 games in a top-flight season since 1978 - when they were eventually relegated.