Chelsea will get a huge boost this Saturday at Stoke City with captain John Terry having been added to the squad after being sidelined with a knee injury since November 11th. ESPN FC reports that manager Rafael Benitez has named Terry to the team and as an available substitute, but has stated that the 32-year-old will not start. Terry played 45 minutes on Thursday night for Chelsea’s U-21 squad against Fulham U-21’s and whether he plays on Saturday or not, his presence on the bench will give The Blues added energy against a tough Stoke City side.
Chelsea currently sits fourth in the EPL table, one point behind Tottenham, but 14 points behind league leading Manchester United. The Blues have been rather inconsistent since manager Rafael Benitez took over, losing to teams such as West Ham, Swansea City, and QPR, and face one of the best defenses in the league on Saturday. Stoke City is 10th in the table, but have been one of the best teams at home throughout the season. The September 22nd, 2012 meeting between the two saw Chelsea barely escape at home with a 1-0 victory, giving Stoke even more fuel for Saturday’s match.
The recent acquisition of Demba Ba and return of John Terry will be huge if Chelsea wants any chance of making a run and capturing the title. This weekend’s match can yield two different outcomes for a team like Chelsea, who is on the brink of either making a run, or losing contention for the title. Stoke City will offer a tough test for the visiting Blues, and Chelsea will need to flex their muscles to show the rest of the league that they mean business.
According to Mirror.co.uk, Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech could also make a return to the lineup after being out nearly two weeks with a groin injury. Ross Turnbull has filled in admirably between the pipes for The Blues, but as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Cech is always preferred if healthy.
Chelsea players Jon Obi Mikel and Victor Moses will be unavailable due to International duty, and the recent reports by ESPN FC that Frank Lampard will not return to the team next season has Chelsea fans cringing. Even without a few of the big names, Rafa Benitez has plenty of players to choose from.
Let’s look at some of the players to watch in Saturday’s matchup:
In his first appearance for Chelsea after signing from Newcastle, the Senegalese striker scored a brace at Southampton in the FA Cup; quite a way to start. Ba’s next challenge comes against arguably the best defensive team in the league in Stoke City. Ba continues to sit in third place in the league in scoring with 13 on the season, and with players like Eden Hazard and Juan Mata behind him, the striker should get better services, better opportunities, and more goals than ever before. Ba has been struggling with a hamstring tweak, but is expected to start on Saturday. The matchup between one of the league’s best offense and the league’s best defense should be amazing to watch.
Stoke City’s big central defender anchors the defense and provides an aerial presence, organization skills, and a nasty streak for one of the league’s best defensive teams. Shawcross will give Demba Ba a huge test and will most likely play very physically in order to put the striker off his game. The defender is not afraid to go in hard on a tackle and often takes the player with him, which has seen him earn five yellow cards on the season, placing him among the league leaders. Together with central defender Robert Huth, Shawcross is quite simply a warrior for his team. Watch for some tough tackles and maybe a card for Shawcross come Saturday.
With Frank Lampard’s selection in question and the absence of Jon Obi Mikel, Chelsea central defender David Luiz could once again be forced into a central midfield role. Luiz is a big, strong presence in the midfield and has decent skills, but has looked lost since moving from his primary position. A great header of the ball and a tough tackler, Luiz hasn’t quite made the impact he has wanted since entering the midfield. Against a strong and chippy Stoke City squad, Luiz could actually play a huge role in determining the outcome of the match. Along side finesse players such as Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Ramires, and even Demba Ba, David Luiz could be just the physical presence The Blues need to combat the physicality of Stoke City. His presence in the air along with Cahill and Ivanovic will play a huge role especially defending free kicks and corner kicks as the rest of the squad stands considerably below 6 feet tall.