In-form Chelsea are clear bookies’ favourites to emerge victorious from the FA Cup Fourth Round at home to Stoke City on Sunday (15:30 GMT on ITV1).
Jose Mourinho’s side have won each of their last six matches in all competitions and are one of primary challengers for the Premier League title, sitting two points off leaders Arsenal with 49 points from 15 wins, four draws and three defeats.
Chelsea’s improved form has coincided with a tactical reshuffle that has seen Mourinho employ a dedicated holder as part of his midfield two. The Blues have conceded just twice in their last seven matches in all competitions and the signing of defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic from Benfica signals Mourinho’s intention to continue with this approach.
Further up the pitch, Chelsea’s two wide attacking midfielders, Eden Hazard and Willian, have both been in excellent form in recent weeks, while the oft-misfiring strikers have also started to find the back of the net. Samuel Eto’o took advantage of some sloppy defending to score a hat-trick in the comfortable 3-1 victory over Manchester United in Chelsea’s last league match.
The seven-time FA Cup winners secured their place in the Fourth Round with a 2-0 win away to Championship side Derby County. Mourinho put out a strong side, with only the inclusions of Mark Schwarzer in goal and Michael Essien in midfield causing real surprise. He has a deep enough squad to select a team made up of quality players again for this FA Cup match.
Fernando Torres (knee) and Marco Van Ginkel (knee) will both definitely be missing from Mourinho’s side, but he otherwise looks to have a fit squad to pick from. Demba Ba will likely be part of the match day squad after his proposed move to Trabzonspor was cancelled in the wake of Torres’ injury.
Stoke City have endured an up and down season and are 14th in the Premier League table, four points clear of the relegation zone, with 22 points from five wins, seven draws and 10 defeats.
Mark Hughes took on a difficult job when he was appointed Stoke’s manager last summer. He was tasked with not only matching or improving on last season’s 13th place finish but also with implementing a new style of football that would see the club depart from the long ball tactics employed by his predecessor Tony Pulis.
Results have been inconsistent, verging on terrible away from home, but Hughes has certainly succeeded stylistically. Stoke have enjoyed a greater average share of possession (47.1% to 43.3%), completed a larger percentage of passes (77% to 70.2%) and played a smaller number of long balls and crosses as a percentage of total passes (18.52% to 23.82%) than under Pulis last season.
The Potters, beaten finalists in 2011, progressed to the Fourth Round by virtue of a 2-1 win at home to Championship leaders Leicester City. Hughes put out a strong side, made up primarily of first team regulars, but may seek to rest one or two of his most important players with a trip a Sunderland to come in the league next Wednesday.
Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic could be set for surprise return to the side after recovering sooner than expected from the broken finger he sustained over the festive period. Hughes also has a decision to make regarding striker Kenwyne Jones, who was dropped from the defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend due to indiscipline. New loan signing John Guidetti could start.
Chelsea vs Stoke City Betting Tips Advice
Stoke triumphed 3-2 when these sides met in the league at the Britannia Stadium earlier this season, but that was their first victory over Chelsea since their return to the top flight in 2008. Chelsea have gone over 10 years since last losing a home FA Cup tie, while Stoke’s last victory at Stamford Bridge came way back in 1974.
The Blues are the clear favourites for this tie. Mourinho has the luxury of being able to rest some of his regular starters without a noticeable drop in overall team quality, something that his opposite number, Hughes, is unable to do.
Chelsea are in excellent form having tightened up defensively over the last month or so while continuing to produce in attack. Stoke struggle to score goals on a regular basis and have been poor away from home so far this season. We therefore expect Chelsea to progress to the Fifth Round with victory on Sunday.
- Back Chelsea to win to nil @ best odds of evens with Ladbrokes.
- Stoke have one of the worst disciplinary records in the Premier League, with an average of 2.23 cards per match. Chelsea average 1.55, giving a combined average of 3.78 per match, while it should also be noted that there were five yellow cards issued during their Premier League encounter earlier this season. Therefore, back over 3.5 cards @ 6/5 with Bet365.