What a start to 2013 it’s been for Chelsea, with two humiliating home defeats book-ending a comprehensive FA Cup win. So where do I start?
Their Cobham training complex cannot have been a pleasant sight on Thursday morning. The 2-0 home loss to Swansea in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final really looked to have knocked the stuffing out of Chelsea by the end.
A pair of Branislav Ivanovic gaffes gave the game a comedic feel for the neutrals but there was little to smile about from a Chelsea perspective.
Fernando Torres slumped off with ten minutes to go to a collection of jeers and the Stamford Bridge crowd also voted with their voices at full-time.
It’s four home games from six in which Chelsea have failed to score under Rafael Benitez and Wednesday’s woeful show could have put paid to a fifth piece of silverware this season.
With the natives restless, a trip away from Stamford Bridge may be welcome but the Britannia Stadium is no weekend retreat. It may not be a wet Wednesday but it could very well be a sullen Saturday in Stoke for the Blues.
Any lingering Premier League title hopes must be long gone and Benitez cannot afford many more slip-ups as Chelsea look to secure a top-four finish.
Stoke will most certainly test the Londoners’ powers of recovery and durability when they make the trip to the Potteries and Tony Pulis’ men should still have designs on a European finish themselves.
Chelsea’s last four away days have all ended in wins and bwin’s 3Way football betting market makes them 9/10 favourites, with the draw 12/5 and the hosts 3/1.
Those prices seem heavily weighted in the Blues’ favour and I for one would be slightly apprehensive about backing Chelsea.
They wilted under duress at West Ham, suffering a 3-1 defeat, and they are bound to be on the end of a similar examination from the Potters.
Stoke are unbeaten in 17 Premier League games on their own patch and also boast one of the most miserly defensive records in the division.
Games between this pair have hardly been classics in recent times. The last five fixtures have produced just six goals, with Stoke registering just once in that sequence.
With Stoke more about substance than style and Chelsea coming north wounded, you’d be a fool to be expecting a bagful in this game and under 2.5 goals at 3/4 looks sound.
There isn’t much which entices me towards backing an away-day victory and if I was to plump for a win either way, then it’d be for Stoke – especially at 3/1.
However, I’m going to have to sit on the fence for this one, partly because I can’t call it either way, but mainly because I do think it will peter out into a draw.
The previous four clashes between Stoke and Chelsea have gone into half-time all square and it’s 23/20 that’ll be the case again on Saturday.
If you reckon it’ll be a draw then don’t just settle for that as the end result at 12/5. The match to be all square at both half-time and full-time is 4/1 and you can also get a remarkable 7/2 that either side will lead at some point with the game ending level.
If I had a free £20 bet courtesy of bwin, I’d be slapping it down on the lead-draw selection in the run of play market at 7/2 and a correct punt could earn you £90.
If you’ve got a suspicion that one side will win, then boost your pot by getting on them to do it with under 3.5 goals in the game, with Stoke out at 15/4 to do just that and Chelsea 31/20 to do likewise.
Top bet: Lead-draw in the run of play market @ 7/2