As midweek run outs in fairly meaningless cup competitions goes, Chelsea’s 5-1 win over Nottingham Forest on Wednesday was absolutely perfection.
There was the confidence-inducing authority of the scoreline, no injuries or suspensions, a morale-boosting hat-trick for a young striker learning his craft, a first 90 minutes of the season for the talisman, game time for some fringe players who will be needed this term, and an opportunity to see a trio of future stars make their debut in a blue shirt.
It’s hard to think of a way that the Carabao Cup encounter could have gone any better!
Michy Batshuayi will take the headlines for his treble – a much-needed boost for the youngster whose first-team appearances have been limited, but it was the performances of Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas that should really take the plaudits.
The former assisted two of the goals and enjoyed his first full 90 minutes of the campaign, while the Spaniard had a hand in three goals as he once again delivered a virtuoso midfield performance.
Charly Musonda bagged a goal on his full competitive debut – we told you to watch out for the fleet-footed attacker, and Kenedy also netted after smart work from Antonio Rudiger.
Embed from Getty Images
The home faithful also got a glimpse into the future as Jake Clarke-Salter, Ethan Ampadu and Dujon Sterling all made their first senior team appearances off the bench.
So as long as Hazard did not suffer any reaction to playing the full 90 then Wednesday evening went perfectly, and Antonio Conte will be feeling pretty chipper ahead of the trip to Stoke on Saturday.
The Blues have had a mixed bag of form at the Britannia Stadium, losing on three of their last five visits there, but the players could not be in better spirits ahead of Saturday’s game.
Chelsea Team NewsDanny Drinkwater is still working his way back to full fitness after suffering a pre-season injury, and it is thought that late October is his target date for a return.
Pedro suffered an ankle injury in the game against Arsenal on Sunday, although The Standard is reporting that the Spaniard should be in contention to be fit for Stoke.
All of which leaves David Luiz as the only confirmed absentee for the Potteries date. The Brazilian suffered the double-whammy of being sent off against the Gunners and breaking a bone in his wrist after earlier crashing into the advertising hoardings on the brink of half-time.
Luiz was suspended for last night’s Carabao Cup clash and will also miss the Premier League games against Stoke and Manchester City next Saturday.
So how will Conte combat the loss of his key defender? One option would have been to move Cesar Azpilicueta into the central ‘free’ role, and bring in Antonio Rudiger to his right, although it seems that the manager prefers to trust in Andreas Christensen.
“Christensen is a very young player but I think he is a good player and I trust him,” Conte said. “Now he has the possibility to play and now he has to prepare very well to play.”
The other question for the Italian is will he start with Hazard again so soon after the Forest match? Being the pragmatist he is, Conte will leave everyone guessing until the last minute about that, but with the Champions League encounter with Atletico Madrid on the horizon he may choose to use the Belgian as an impact sub here.
Stoke City vs Chelsea Head to HeadAs mentioned, Chelsea haven’t always enjoyed the best of it at the Britannia Stadium – three defeats in their last five trips to the Potteries confirms the fact.
But some context is required. Two of those losses came within a fortnight of one another in October/November of 2015 – which will forever be known as the sad, mad last days of Jose Mourinho as manager.
In Antonio Conte’s first trip to the Britannia in March, he oversaw a 2-1 win with a delicious free kick from Willian and a late winner from Gary Cahill firing the Blues a step closer to the Premier League title.
Chelsea have won 14 of their last 20 games against Stoke home and away, and will be confident of adding to that haul despite a record at the Britannia which reads W5 D2 L3.
How the Match Will Be WonWhen Chelsea last played Stoke away from home the Potteries side aimed to make life as difficult as possible for the Blues, and even seemed to target Diego Costa in a deliberate attempt to wind up the Spaniard. It’s an allegation that Mark Hughes strongly denied, but the fact his defender Phil Bardsley was sent off – largely for a campaign of hate against Costa – speaks volumes.
Alvaro Morata seems a rather more placid chap than his countryman, and so that’s one tactic that should give the hosts less joy this time around.
Embed from Getty Images
Hughes has worked hard to shake off the ‘long ballers’ tag he inherited from Tony Pulis, bringing in the likes of the classy Xherdan Shaqiri and Jese Rodriguez. But no doubt the manager will be whispering in the ear of the likes of Darren Fletcher and Geoff Cameron to ‘leave a bit on’ Chelsea’s creative talents in an attempt to stifle them.
It has worked already this term against Arsenal, whom Stoke deservedly beat 1-0, and Manchester United – Stoke bringing their perfect start to the campaign to an end in a 2-2 draw.
They will surely test the aerial prowess of Azpilicueta and Christensen courtesy of long balls to Eric Choupo-Moting and possibly even Peter Crouch off the bench, and so the midfield will need to make sure they track any Stoke runners feeding off the knock downs.
But all in all, Stoke offer precious little from an attacking sense. They have not enjoyed shot supremacy in any of their five Premier League outings to date, and have yielded numerous shots on target in their pair of home outings so far. Chelsea are likely to thrive in such conditions.