Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovich, Baba, Fabregas, Matic, Willian, Oscar, Hazard, Diego Costa
Stoke City: Butland, Muniesa, Cameron, Wollscheid, Pieters, Whelan, Imbula, Shaqiri, Bojan, Arnautovic, Diouf
Guus Hiddink, if he would like the job, should be the next Chelsea manager.
It’s a big statement to make so emphatically but the way he has turned around Chelsea’s season, for the second time, is remarkable. The Dutchman, who struggled so much in charge the Dutch national side, has once again proved that he is an exceptional man manager and can spark a positive response from even his most cantankerous of stars.
The return to form of Diego Costa has to be seen to be believed. In October, the adopted Spaniard cast a more than despondent shadow at Stamford Bridge and now as we enter March, he can’t stop scoring. Very much like Harry Kane in his importance to the team in providing a goal scoring outlet, Costa has been his normal bullish self and has provided the figure head for balls forward that players such as Fabregas was crying out for in Mourinho’s final days.
Is Top 4 possible? Looking at the results in the week and knowing past seasons, we all know anything is possible in the Premier League and who is to say that Chelsea won’t go on a mind boggling run of victories to over throw the current 8pt margin. If it were to happen, it might rank has Hiddink’s greatest managerial triumph and one that will eulogise the already well liked Dutchman in Stamford Bridge folklore.
Stoke City currently sit 7th in the Premier League and are only 12pts away from equalling their record points tally in the Premier League. It’s another season of footballing progression under Mark Hughes but this is Hughes’s first season that has seen the Welshman really try and shape a more attractive side and break the Pulis mould. Stoke City are no longer that side who will dominate you with physicality across the park and optimise Rory Delap’s shoulders, they are a little more refined with a whole host of continental finesse in the final third.
When the trifecta of Arnautovic, Bojan and Shaqiri are in full flow, they have blown sides away – Manchester City at the Britannia perhaps being the best example, but these moments of attacking proficiency are fleeting glimpses of a promised land, rather than being a constant at the Britannia. Yes Stoke have a new image, but this Stoke City side have only scored 30 goals in 28 games. It is hardly a rate that is setting the world a light is it?
However, not all should be doom and gloom. In Ryan Shawcross and Jack Butland, Stoke have two exceptional Premier League players and especially in Butland a true star in the making. Hughes will know that players like Shawcross and Butland are as integral to his vision for Stoke City as the flair on show in the final third. Add the January signing of Giannelli Imbula, who will be replacing the lost muscle of Steven N’Zonzi into the mix and next season could be Stoke City’s most exciting yet.
Stoke City have won their last 3 games on the bounce but with all 3 victories coming against teams in the bottom 6, such victories should be expected from this Stoke City side. With three wins in a row also for Chelsea, who remain unbeaten under Hiddink, draws are turning into victories as they continue to rebuild their season.
For the likes of Stoke, West Ham and Southampton, Europa League football is within reach but something about Chelsea screams Top 6, at the very least, and sadly someone will be left disappointed come May.
Chelsea for the win in this one as Hiddink’s team continues to impress.
Match Prediction: Chelsea 2-1 Stoke City
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog
Form Over The Last 6 Games
Average Goals Scored and Conceded
All Graphics Provided By Sporticos.