The race for the Premier League title may well have be already all but won but the race to finish the best of the rest intensifies with each week that passes, Chelsea have been somewhat quietly going about their business as of late and they currently find themselves just a point behind Manchester United in third place.
With Jose Mourinho’s men playing later this evening, a win for Chelsea would see them move into second in the Premier League table for a few hours at least and if that is to be the case then they will need to get the better of Mark Hughes’ Stoke side who are unbeaten in their last two league outings.
Boxing Day saw Chelsea offer up some late Christmas cheer to their fans as they eventually got the better of Brighton at Stamford Bridge, it was a patient performance as it needed two second half strikes to get the better of Chris Hughton’s men but ultimately it was the additional quality that edged it in the end.
Chelsea have picked up 13 points from a possible 18, a run of results that sees them match their third place in the league with third place in the current form table (last six matches) they may not be getting the same level of plaudits as that of Manchester City but perhaps that will suit Antonio Conte and their players as they are free to just go about their business.
The defence of the title is as good over for the Blues but with the West London outfit competing on so many fronts this season, don’t be surprised if they still manage to pick up some silverware at the end of the campaign. Not only that but the club cannot afford to settle for third especially with a trio of clubs on their tails.
If Chelsea cannot win the title then they will want to finish as high as possible and not get drawn into a dogfight for the remaining Champions League places and therefore they will look to keep the buffer they currently have from the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal one that stands at four and five points respectively.
Today they face a Stoke side who are in a better state of health after two recent positive results, first a win over West Brom at the Bet365 Stadium last weekend was then followed up by a Boxing Day draw with Huddersfield. In what is an incredibly tight section of the Premier League those additional four point have done them the world of good.
So much so that they currently find themselves in the relative safety of 13th place but with only three points separating them and Bournemouth in 18th they can just as quickly get caught in the mire once again. Not only have those additional points fired them up the table but it also hushed the rumours about Mark Hughes being one game away from losing his job.
Just as defeat can suck the Potters back into the relegation mix then it can also Stoke (pun very much intended) the flames once again in regards to Hughes and his job status. Peter Coates the club owner has gone on record and said that the former Wales boss has his full backing and to be honest you would have to be inclined to agree with him due to the fact that he does not have a track record for being trigger happy when it comes to firing managers.
But then again it is easy to say that when you are on the right side of the relegation line, will those sentiments still ring true if Stoke do drop into the bottom three. On the flip side you cannot deny that Stoke have certainly bounced back since their 3-0 home drubbing to West Ham, a result which gave them their third successive defeat.
It may only be a two game unbeaten streak but it is one that is making sure that they keep their head above water, unfortunately for them though I cannot see that streak becoming three this afternoon. Just like on Boxing Day, Chelsea’s additional quality will be the difference not to mention Kurt Zouma cannot play for Stoke today either. All things considered I will go for a home win.