Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez will likely be glad to be back on the road after suffering two consecutive home defeats that have seriously hampered the Spaniard’s chances of claiming a trophy this season and influencing Roman Abramovich to remove the interim tag form his job title.
Sandwiching a 5-1 win at Southampton in the FA Cup, Chelsea ended their fine Premier League run with a 1-0 defeat at Queens Park Rangers and on Wednesday before succumbing to a 2-0 defeat to Swansea in the first-leg of their Capital One Cup semifinal.
While Branislav Ivanovic was the villain of the Swansea loss with two critical errors, Fernando Torres again earned much criticism for his performance. The Spaniard toiled up front for 80 minutes before eventually being replaced by new signing Demba Ba, who looked impressive in his short time on the pitch.
But Benitez has revealed that Torres was suffering from a stomach bug, while Ba had a hamstring problem that prevented him from starting.
“I couldn't say this before the game because I can't explain our problems to the other managers,” Benitez said, according to Chelsea’s website. “So you have a professional trying to do his best in a difficult situation, taking responsibility and I was really pleased with Fernando because he was trying to play despite the problems.
“Now he is much better and today they were both training.
“I would like to see all my players praised every day in the media but you have to accept that when you are not doing as well as everyone is expecting then you could be criticized,” he added.
There is little doubt that Benitez’s lineup will be eagerly awaited before Chelsea travel to Stoke on Saturday. Ba has already enthused Chelsea fans with two goals on his debut, while Torres’ continued struggles appear to have tried Chelsea’s fans’ patience.
Chelsea are likely to need to take their chances at the Britannia Stadium against a Stoke team that has one of the best defensive records in the Premier League this season. But, while Stoke have proven uncomfortable opposition for many of the Premier League’s big guns in recent seasons, Chelsea are unbeaten against the Potters in their last eight league and cup games, winning five.
Tony Pulis has no new injury concerns to contend with the likes of Kenwyne Jones, Asmir Begovic and Andy Wilkinson likely to return to the lineup having been rested in their FA Cup draw with Crystal Palce.
John Terry made his comeback in an Under-21 game on Thursday and he looks set to start on the bench for Chelsea. Petr Cech remains sidelined.
D: Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Wilkinson
M: Kightly, Whelan, N’Zonzi, Etherington
D: Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole
M: Lampard, Luiz
Mata, Oscar, Hazard
Prediction: Stoke have been the draw specialists this season, finishing level after more than half of their Premier League matches. The Potters also have the best defensive record at home and goals are likely to be few and far between on Saturday.
Benitez could make a couple of changes from the midweek defeat and it is likely that they will show an improved performance free from the unsettled atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. Both central defenders, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahil,l should be able to stand up to the physical test against Stoke and the Blues should just do enough for a narrow victory.
Stoke 0-1 Chelsea
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League contest will kick-off at 10 a.m. ET. A live stream will be provided by ESPN3.