Chelsea travel to Stoke City on Saturday without banned manager Jose Mourinho, who hopes his absence will not prevent the players from picking up a much-needed victory.
The Premier League champions had a crucial win in Europe against Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday to lighten the mood around Stamford Bridge, but that does not help their precarious predicament domestically.
Chelsea sit 15th in the table with just 11 points from as many outings and are already well off the pace of joint-leaders Manchester City and Arsenal.
Six league defeats already matches Mourinho’s worst return in his career and Chelsea face a trip to the Britannia Stadium, having already faltered there in last week’s League Cup penalty-shootout elimination.
As Mourinho serves a one-game stadium ban after being dismissed at West Ham recently, the Portuguese hopes his players can motivate themselves out of his presence.
“I think they will know I am with them,” he said, when asked how his squad might cope. “They know I am going to prepare the team until the moment they go to the game.
“They know that during the game, the action of the manager is not so crucial and I think the fact they know why I am not on the bench is also important for the group.”
Stoke have had an up-and-down campaign to date, with a run of four straight league wins halted by a poor return of one point from their last two games against Watford and Newcastle United.
Only four of their 13 points have been picked up at home and defender Erik Pieters cannot put his finger on why they have been more successful on the road.
“Our away form seems to be better than our home form at the moment,” the defender told the Stoke Sentinel.
“You can’t explain that, it’s one way one season then the opposite. Sometimes you are better at home. It is how it is and it’s time to change our home record.
“It is good and it is positive [at the moment]. It is too bad we didn’t get a win at Newcastle or a win against Watford but I still think we are in good shape.
“Most games are going to be tight in the Premier League, but we have some good forwards. Marko [Arnautovic] is doing really well and I hope everyone will get more confident as we play more matches like we have done over the last two seasons.
“We have had really good finishes to get into the top 10 twice and hopefully
we can do that again. Maybe we can do even better than that, but we have to take it game by game.”
As well as long-term absentee Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea have been without Branislav Ivanovic (hamstring) and Radamel Falcao (muscle injury) during recent matches, although Pedro made a return as a substitute against Kiev. Stoke are without Marc Muniesa (hamstring) and Shay Given (knee).
Key Opta stats:
– Mark Hughes’ side have won just one of their last five Barclays Premier League games at the Britannia Stadium (W1 D1 L3).
– Chelsea have won just two of their last 10 away matches in all competitions (W2 D3 L5) and one of the draws ended in the League Cup shootout defeat by Stoke.
– Only Sunderland (69) have allowed more shots on target against them than Chelsea (63) in the Premier League this season.
– Of all reigning Premier League champions, this is the worst title defence after 11 games of a season (11 points); the previous worst tally was set by Blackburn Rovers (14 points in 1995-96).
– Chelsea have already conceded more goals this season (22) than they managed in the whole of 2004-05 (15) and the same number as in the whole of 2005-06 (22).
– If Chelsea lose this game, it’ll be the first time that they’ve lost seven of their opening 12 games in a top-flight season since 1978-79; a season that they were relegated.