PMB: Stoke City v Chelsea - tactics

We conclude our Pre-Match Briefing for today's Premier League encounter...



Antonio Conte would no doubt prefer to face the version of Stoke City lost 4-0 at Tottenham to the one that frustrated Pep Guardiola and his Man City team 10 days ago.

The way Chelsea controlled our game at West Ham, though, could be useful preparation for this one. The team afforded the Hammers few chances and the central defenders did well against the long ball to Andy Carroll. Stoke City may deploy Peter Crouch in a similar fashion.

It was different when our two sides met at the Bridge on New Year’s Eve. Hughes mirrored Chelsea’s system with three central defenders and Pieters and Diouf as wing-backs with Crouch upfront.

The Blues took the lead twice (the first from a corner) but were pegged back before Willian, with his second of the game, and Diego Costa eased the hosts to a 4-2 win. 

Hughes, a wonderful warhorse of a centre-forward in his days at Stamford Bridge, will be concerned the Potters are not landing enough punches on the leading teams. They did, though, restrict Manchester City to one shot on target (they average 14 shots conceded per league game) as well as forcing some openings themselves.

The Welshman will have devised a plan to negate his old team’s threats in possibly the same fashion: ensure there are plenty of bodies behind the ball, restrict the opponent’s time on the ball and ability to turn and, if possible, hit them on the break with long balls to the front-runners.

Stoke usually stick to the same 4-2-3-1 formation, but at the Etihad they accommodated two strikers, Jon Walters and new man Saido Berahino in preference to Peter Crouch and central midfielder Glenn Whelan. The pair brought energy and mobility, and were under instruction to defend from the front. They used their pace, strength and running to stretch the hosts defensively too.

Central midfielders Geoff Cameron and Joe Allen (pictured below) worked tirelessly to block City’s through-passes from midfield to attack, and their defenders will no doubt be told not to lose the physical battle with the front five when Chelsea attack.   

They clear their lines rather than play out from the back. Goalkeeper Lee Grant is happy to fire the ball straight upfield, usually towards the aerially-strong Walters or Mame Biram Diouf on the right. On the left flank, January signing Ramadan Sobhi, an inverted winger, has shown himself to be skilful and hard to shake off the ball.

Conte is unlikely to make many unenforced changes to the usual 3-4-3 this weekend. He has indicated Victor Moses should be fit to play but should the wing-back not prove his fitness, the boss has options including moving Pedro there, which has the virtue of not disrupting a successful central defence, or bringing in Kurt Zouma and pushing Cesar Azpilicueta into Moses’ role.

Willian may be preferred to Pedro in the front three in any case because of his impact against the hosts earlier in the campaign.

Mark Hughes’ team are tall and powerful as well as highly organised, which may or may not influence the Italian’s thinking. Nemanja Matic may start the game ahead of Cesc Fabregas in central midfield. The extra inches may help at the other end of the pitch, too – only five sides have let in more goals from set-pieces than Hughes’ men. 

His team have won their last two at the bet365 Stadium, where they are unbeaten in eight, but are six down on their overall points total at the same stage of both the past two seasons. The Potters at home have not scored from the 75th minute on yet have conceded five, more than in any other quarter-hour segment.

Squad news

Victor Moses took a heavy knock and was substituted in the win against Man United on Monday yet should be fit. Conte has a couple of players to check before naming his team.

Stoke’s first-choice ’keeper Jack Butland and attacking midfielder Stephen Ireland remain on the sidelines. Former Blues right-back Glen Johnson is out but forwards Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic are available again.

- Chelsea TV have their match analysis below...

PAT NEVIN'S ANALYSIS: Ahead of Stoke v Chelsea - Looking back at our win over Man Utd