11th January 2013
Stoke City are unbeaten in last 17 Premier League games at Britannia Stadium, but that run will be put to a serious test by Chelsea, with the Blues eager to make amends for home defeats to QPR and Swansea. All this should guarantee us an exciting game of football in Stoke-on-Trent.
Even if Stoke City currently occupy 10th place in the Premier League standings, Tony Pulis has got to be congratulated for the constant progress this club have made under his guidance. In a pre-match interview, Pulis reminded Rafael Benitez that he, too, had been booed by fans at the start of his reign at the Britannia Stadium, but he has since won them back by getting the absolute maximum out of his side season after season. The Potters only recently ended their ten-match unbeaten run, having lost at the Etihad, before ensuring FA Cup replay by holding Crystal Palace to a goalless draw. Pulis resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes to the side in the FA Cup, but still rested a couple of players, with Asmir Begovic, Kenwyne Jones and Glenn Whelan likely to return for the Chelsea game. With Michael Owen making a first team return against Crystal Palace, Rory Delap and Mark Wilson remain the only unavailable players at the moment.
Considering his anti-Chelsea statements during his reign at Anfield, Rafael Benitez was always going to have his work cut out for him at Stamford Bridge, but a couple of weeks ago it appeared that the Spaniard was on the road to get the Blues back on track. Premier League victories over Aston Villa, Norwich and Everton had acted as a major confidence boost following the Club World Cup failure, but Benitez’s decision to field an under-strength side in the home clash with rock-bottom QPR came back to haunt him as Rangers ended up securing a much needed victory at the Bridge. Chelsea successfully returned to winning ways as they hammered Southampton in the FA Cup, but 2-0 home defeat to Swansea in the first leg of the Capitol One Cup semi-final shattered team’s hopes of edging closer to winning the first trophy of the season. Branislav Ivanovic should keep his place in the side despite being at fault for both goals, while Demba Ba and Frank Lampard should return. Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel are away on international duty, whereas Petr Cech and Oriol Romeu are out injured.
With Chelsea completely out of confidence and failing to score in two of last three matches, the Blues clearly face an uphill task against hard-working Stoke. The Potters will attempt to win this game, but I am sure they won’t be too disappointed if the match ends all squared. Therefore, my advice is to bet on under 2.5 goals.
Verdict: Under 2.5 goals
Best Odds: 4/5
Bookmaker: Stan James