Stoke City had gone ten matches unbeaten prior to defeat to Manchester City in their last Premier League fixture and will be hopeful of picking up at least a point at home to Chelsea on Saturday (3pm GMT).
Stoke are enjoying a decent season and are 10th in the table with 29 points from six wins, 11 draws and four defeats.
The Potters began the campaign poorly, with just one win in their first 10 matches, but recovered thereafter, a flurry of four wins in five matches through mid-November and early December helping them move up into the top half of the table.
There is little subtlety to the physical, long-ball approach espoused by Stoke manager Tony Pulis, but it is a methodology that has seen the club establish itself in the top flight. This season is their fifth consecutive Premier League campaign after 23 years in the lower divisions.
Stoke are a direct side who show little intent to hold onto the ball and out-possess their opponents. They have the second-lowest average share of the ball in the Premier League (42.3%) and play the third-highest number of long balls and crosses as a percentage of total passes (23.46%).
When you concede so much possession to your opponents it is necessary to be extremely well organised defensively and that is certainly one of Stoke’s strong points. With a phalanx of tall, well-built defenders they defend rigidly and physically, sitting deep and fouling anyone who threatens to pierce them. They lead the Premier League aggression table with 44 bookings and three red cards to date.
It is an effective approach, though, as Stoke currently have the third best defensive record in the division, with just 20 goals conceded in their 21 matches to date. They are even stingier at home, with just seven goals conceded in 10 matches at the Britannia, a record that has contributed greatly to their unbeaten record at the ground, with five wins and five draws.
There will be confidence among the Stoke ranks that their defence can hold firm once more against a Chelsea side who failed to score for the second time in three matches in losing 2-0 at home to Swansea in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final on Wednesday.
It was a galling result for Rafael Benitez, whose side played well in fits and starts and might indeed have secured victory were it not for some profligate finishing, particularly coming just a week after Chelsea had fallen to a 1-0 defeat at home to Queen’s Park Rangers in the West London derby.
Whatever credit Benitez had begun to accumulate with the Chelsea supporters through a run of four straight victories in December has quickly evaporated over the last week. The unrest was clear at the final whistle on Wednesday as Benitez and his charges were met by a chorus of boos as they left the pitch.
They received a similar reception in the wake of the defeat to QPR, a result that left them fourth in the Premier League table with 38 points from 11 wins, five draws and four defeats, some 14 points behind leaders Manchester United, albeit with a game in hand.
Unless United, and indeed second place Manchester City, suffer a major loss of form in the second half of the season, Chelsea are highly unlikely to be crowned champions at the end of the campaign and thus Benitez’s job will be to keep them in the top four and hopefully secure a trophy in a knockout competition.
It he is to do that then he would be advised to make the most of new signing Demba Ba, who scored twice on his debut against Southampton in the FA Cup but then watched on from the bench on Wednesday as Fernando Torres again failed to produce a performance worthy of a top-level team.
Fully rested, Ba will have a vital role to play against Stoke. He is a strong, physical presence up front and Chelsea will need him to be at his combative best against a similarly aggressive defence.
Ba scored a hat-trick for Newcastle in a victory away to Stoke back in October 2011, which shows he is capable of performing decisively against the Potters. His forward play could again have a big role in deciding the result on Saturday.
Stoke City v Chelsea Betting Tips
Chelsea sneaked a 1-0 victory when these two sides met at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season and we expect to see a similarly tightly-contested encounter this weekend.
The spoils have been shared in the last two meetings between these sides at the Britannia and with Stoke unlikely to give up their unbeaten home record without a fight we believe another draw is the most probable result.