Chelsea Test Stoke’s Resolve as Conte Mulls Return to Winning Ways


After forcing Arsenal to a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge last weekend, Chelsea will be hoping to return to winning ways in today’s Premier League fixture against Stoke City, who is hoping to bounce back from the 2-1 defeat to Newcastle at St. James’ Park

Five points from a possible 15 to begin the season may look underwhelming, but Stoke boss Mark Hugheswas quick to point out following the 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United last weekend that his side have been dealt a tough hand.
The Welshman has a point, having seen his side begin their home campaign with games against Arsenal and Manchester United, as well as travelling to an Everton side buoyed by their summer spending on the opening day.

It has been in those tricky home fixtures that Stoke have picked up their best results, though, thanks to a 1-0 victory over Arsenal on August 19 and a 2-2 drawagainst Manchester United in front of their supporters a fortnight ago.
Stoke are therefore the only team to halt joint-leaders Manchester United on their charge to the summit, but the defeat at St James’ Park last time out in the league, coupled with another limp exit from the EFL Cup, has left a sour taste in the mouth.
While Hughes is deserving of some sympathy as he prepares to welcome another of the heavyweight sides to the bet365 Stadium this weekend, the experienced boss will also know that he is already under a bit of pressure following four games without a win.
The Potters took eight games to surpass the five-point mark last season, however, having endured a torrid runof form that saw Hughes’s job called into question before slowly pulling away from danger.

Stoke have also managed to find the net in seven of their last eight league games stretching back into last season, boosted by the free signing of Cameroon international Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who netted twice in that four-goal draw against United.
Choupo-Moting is already forming a good attacking partnership with Xherdan Shaqiri to give Hughes further hope of better things to come, with the duo combining to create nine goalscoring opportunities so far this term – bettered only by Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen at Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea’s goalless draw with Arsenal last weekend was a rarity in more ways than one, as they failed to beat their London rivals on home soil for the first time in five years, while also being shut out for the first time at home under Antonio Conte.
The Gunners are the only side to keep the Blues’ attackers quiet this term, though, with exactly two goals being scored in each of their previous four league fixtures, as well as a combined 11 against Qarabag and Nottingham Forest in the Champions League and EFL Cup respectively.
Conte is clearly not concerned about summer signing Alvaro Morata stepping up to the plate and building on what has been a decent enough start to life in English football, having agreed to sell AWOL striker Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid in the New Year following their falling out at the end of last season.
The bigger issue right now regards discipline, as David Luiz became the third Chelsea player to see red in the space of five league games – as many sendings-off as their previous 73 games – while Victor Moses and Pedro were also dismissed in the FA Cup final and Community Shield.

All-in-all it has been a mixed start to the campaign for the defending champions; initially putting their shock 3-2 opening-game defeat to Burnley behind them with three league wins on the spin – including a 2-1 triumphaway to Tottenham Hotspur but that stalemate with Arsenal has very much halted them in their tracks.
With United and Manchester City scoring goals and winning games for fun, there is now pressure on the Blues to pick up victory when they travel to the Potteries this weekend, requiring just one more point to hit the milestone 1,8000 during the Premier League era.
That will put them in a band alongside Arsenal (1,829) and Manchester United (2,034), and if their recent away form is anything to go by then Conte should be left smiling come teatime this evening, with seven wins in the bag from the last eight on their travels.
Chelsea have a tricky week ahead prior to the international break, also taking on Manchester City and Atletico Madrid in two defining fixtures at home and in Europe, but for now all focus will simply be on getting the job done against a stubborn opponent.
However, Hughes could have a defensive headache of sorts this weekend as Kurt Zouma misses out due to the stipulations of his season-long loan deal from Chelsea, while Ryan Shawcross is battling with a back problem.

The hosts have a number of players confirmed out for this afternoon’s clash, with Julian Ngoy, Stephen Ireland, Ibrahim Afellay, Geoff Cameron and Jakob Haugaard having to watch on from the stands.
After making mass changes to his side for the midweek defeat at Ashton Gate, Hughes is expected to revert back to his strongest-possible XI, which will likely mean Jese Rodriguez leading the line ahead of creative talents Choupo-Moting and Shaqiri.
Chelsea are without Luiz in the heart of defence as he sits out the second of a three-match ban, meaning that Andreas Christensen and not summer recruit, Antonio Rudiger, will get a run in the side.
Danny Drinkwater remains out with a calf strain and Pedro is also suffering from a knock sustained against Arsenal, so Eden Hazard – slowly getting back to full fitness after getting another 90 minutes under his beltagainst Forest  is almost certain to partner Willian in attack alongside Morata.

Conte is expected to go with a powerful central midfield pairing of Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante, but if further creativity is required then Cesc Fabregas with seven career assists against the Potters  is the man who will be called upon.
Meanwhile, West Ham United must recall positive memories from previous encounters against Tottenham Hotspur to claim a third straight home win over their London rivals, manager Slaven Bilic has said.
West Ham beat Tottenham 1-0 at home last year and a win by the same score in May effectively ended the title hopes of Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
Bilic, whose side have one win from five games, said his players had to repeat the patterns of play from their last clash when the two teams meet at the London Stadium in the Premier League today.

“Everyone involved talks for months about those games and we still remember the game in May and the one at Upton Park, so those are the patterns we want to repeat today,” Bilic told the club’s website.
“We ended their hopes of winning the league but it gives us no psychological advantage. But the advantage comes when you remember good memories and good patterns to repeat what we have actually already done against that team,” he added.
Pochettino, whose Tottenham side are fifth in the standings on eight points from five games, said the West Ham clash was massive for both the team and the fans.
“A derby, just like when we play Arsenal or Chelsea, is not only a game. It’s more than a football game. It’s emotional, you play for your pride and we understand what it means for our fans – we share the same feelings,” he told Tottenham’s website.
West Ham are looking for their second win of the season. They began the campaign with three straight losses, before beating Huddersfield 2-0 and drawing with West Bromwich Albion last week.

Southampton- United Facts
Southampton have lost 24 Premier League games against Manchester United (W7 D5); four more defeats than they have suffered against any other opponent.
Manchester United have won 14 of a possible 18 points in their last six Premier League visits to St Mary’s Stadium (W4 D2 L0).
Southampton have failed to score in eight of their last 10 Premier League matches at St Mary’s Stadium.

Southampton have lost 10 Premier League games in 2017 so far – if they lose this match, they’ll have already equalled their tally of Premier League losses in 2016 (11) with 15 more games scheduled to play following this fixture this calendar year.
Manchester United have scored more Premier League goals in the 80th minute or later in games (9) than 17 of the 19 other clubs have scored overall in the competition this season.
Eight different players have found the net in the Premier League for Manchester United in their opening five games this season; more than any other side.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku have combined for three goals in the Premier League this season (providing assists for goals) – no other partnership has been as profitable in 2017-18 so far.

Romelu Lukaku has scored five goals in his first five Premier League games for Manchester United. The player with the most goals after six PL apps for the Red Devils is Louis Saha (six).
12 of Romelu Lukaku’s last 22 Premier League goals have been scored in the 80th minute or later (55%).
Lukaku has scored more Premier League goals this season (5) than opponents Southampton (4), despite attempting 47 shots fewer (24 v 71).

West Ham      v     Tottenham     12:30
Burnley          v     Huddersfield      15:00
Everton          v     Bournemouth     15:00
Man City         v     Crystal Palace     15:00
Southampton  v     Man Utd     15:00
Stoke City       v     Chelsea     15:00
Swansea         v     Watford     15:00
Leicester         v     Liverpool     17:30

Brighton     v     Newcastle     16:00

Arsenal     v     West Brom     20:00

Premiership Table
Man City         5    14    13
Man Utd         5    14    13
Chelsea          5    3    10
Newcastle        5    2    9
Tottenham      5    4    8
Huddersfield    5    2    8
Burnley           5    1    8
Liverpool         5    0    8
Southampton    5    0    8
West Brom       5    0    8
Watford           5    -2    8
Arsenal           5    -1    7
Stoke             5    -1    5
Swansea         5    -3    5
Leicester         5    -2    4
Brighton          5    -3    4
West Ham       5    -6    4
Everton           5    -8    4
Bournemouth    5    -6    3
Crystal Palace    5    -8    0

Top Scorers
Names     Club    Goals
Sergio Aguero         Man City    5
Romelu Lukaku       Man Utd    5
Gabriel Jesus          Man City    4
Jamie Vardy            Leicester     4
Sadio Mane             Liverpool    3
Danny Welbeck       Arsenal    3
Anthony Martial       Man Utd    3
Alvaro Morata          Chelsea    3
Mohamed Salah       Liverpool    3
Raheem Sterling      Man City    3