By 90Min
December 29, 2017

Chelsea host Stoke in their last game of 2017, looking to keep pace with the two Manchester clubs ahead of them.

Mark Hughes' side have endured a tough first half of the season, having lost their last three games and with only two wins in their last ten matches.

They travel on Saturday to a Chelsea side who have won 9 of their last 12 games, with the recent loss to West Ham being the sole blip in that run. The Blues go into the new year just one point behind Manchester United in second, whilst a distant 16 points short of runaway champions-elect and record-breaking Manchester City.


Classic Encounter

The Potters' last trip to the Bridge was a non-stop thrill ride, as the champions survived being pegged back twice to prevail 4-2 and equal the then top-flight record of 13 straight wins in a single season to go six points clear at the top of the table. 

Image by Jordan Sen

Gary Cahill broke the deadlock in a tight first half, but Bruno Martins Indi pulled the visitors level after the break. Willian turned in ten minutes later to put the Blues back in front, and seemed to set them on the way to a 13th successive victory. 

Peter Crouch equalised just after the hour mark, before the Brazilian restored the lead shortly after. Stoke Diego Costa netted five minutes from time to finally put the result beyond doubt and give Antonio Conte's men a hard-fought win.


Key Battles

Thomas Edwards will have the biggest test of his young career thus far when he tries to contain both Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso. Chelsea's number ten was at his talismanic best against Brighton in their last game, and Spaniard Alonso netted the second goal in the comfortable victory.

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It will be a large ask for the visitors to get anything at Stamford Bridge, but if they do, it will likely run through Xherdan Shaqiri, who has been one of the bright sparks in an otherwise dour season at the Britannia. 

Marcos Alonso, famed for his attacking threat, will have to be at his best defensively to contain the Swiss wideman. On the other flank, Ramadan Sobhi will be a danger, scoring vital goals in Stoke's last two matches.


Team News

After missing the Boxing Day clash with Brighton, Andreas Christensen could return to the team, with captain Gary Cahill dropping to the bench. David Luiz remains out with a long-running knee injury, but otherwise Antonio Conte has no new injury concerns.


By contrast, Mark Hughes has a variety of issues ahead of Saturday's game, with his squad especially light in central defence. 

Image by Jordan Sen

Adding to Bruno Martins Indi's long spell on the sidelines, Ryan Shawcross was taken off injured in Stoke's 1-1 draw with Huddersfield, and Kurt Zouma is ineligible against his parent club, leaving the Welshman with few options across the back four.

Potential Chelsea Lineup: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard.


Potential Stoke Lineup: Butland; Edwards, Wimmer, Cameron, Pieters; Fletcher, Allen; Shaquri, Diouf, Sobhi; Crouch.


Prediction


Even without Stoke's injury problems, containing Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and co would have been a tall order. Missing Ryan Shawcross, the untested pairing of Kevin Wimmer and Geoff Cameron should be no match for Chelsea's attacking options.

Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

Coupled with home advantage and the champions' current good form, they should have more than enough to overwhelm the Potters and ring in the New Year with a comfortable victory.


Prediction: Chelsea 3-0 Stoke

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