Jose Mourinho has again hailed Eden Hazard after his scintillating display against Sunderland on Wednesday, but attempted to temper expectations surrounding the Belgian. Hazard scored twice as Chelsea remained four points off the Premier League summit with a 4-3 win in midweek. Mourinho, though, urged against expecting the 22-year-old to put in such performances week-in and week-out.
“He's very young and it's only his second season in the Premier League,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official website.
“In the Premier League it's very difficult to perform for an attacking player because the game is so aggressive and defenders are much stronger. Many teams play a very defensive game at the moment, it's much more physical and the time to rest between games is much shorter.
“He has fantastic potential and hopefully he goes in the right direction. It's impossible to always play as he did in the last game but to always play with that same ambition is possible.”
Chelsea have a hectic run of fixtures in the coming month, with a match against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday being the first of eight fixtures up to and including New Year’s Day. And Mourinho again lamented what he sees as an unfair calendar.
“This week is a tough week because we started the week on a Sunday, not even a Saturday, against Southampton, and finish on the Saturday,” he explained. “For some clubs they start on a Saturday and end on a Sunday, but for us it's Sunday and Saturday. Once more, when it comes to fixtures we are always in trouble.
“The problem is always the same, so in seven days we have three matches, two of them consecutive away, but we have to cope with it by making a big effort.”
With the busy schedule, Mourinho has confirmed that Ashley Cole will play either on Saturday or against Steaua Bucharest in midweek after Cesar Azpilicueta has occupied his position for the past four matches. Samuel Eto’o will return against Sunderland to boost Mourinho’s options, while Oscar could also be back in contention. David Luiz is ruled out, however.
Stoke enter the fixture badly in need of a win after having tasted victory just once in their last 11 matches in the Premier League. On Wednesday they drew 0-0 with Cardiff in a game that manager Mark Hughes believes that they should have won. Hughes, a former Chelsea striker, has struggled since replacing Tony Pulis in the summer and trying to evolve the side’s playing style. Stoke currently lie four points above the relegation zone.
Against Cardiff, Jonathan Walters’s long run of consecutive appearances in the Premier League came to an end, however Hughes has stated that the forward will be fit to take on Chelsea. Left-back Erik Pieters will miss out with groin injury suffered against Cardiff, with Spanish youngster Marc Muniesa set to play out of position as his replacement.
Where to watch: The Premier League clash will kick off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC’s Premier League Extra Time, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.