CHELSEA may have drawn a blank in each of their first two matches at the start of Rafael Benitez’s reign as manager . . . but they have been scoring goals for fun ever since then in their pursuit of glory on the European and domestic fronts.
Benitez’s side equalled their record League victory just before Christmas when they put eight goals past Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge, whilst one of many other emphatic victories over the past five weeks saw them kick off their defence of the FA Cup with a comfortable 5-1 win at Southampton in last weekend’s third round tie on the south coast.
Such prolific form in front of goal raises the hope that Chelsea can enjoy a triumphant second half of the campaign, although they received a blow on Wednesday night with a shock defeat at home to Swansea City in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg.
They could indeed create a piece of history if they managed to win the Europa League, though, because no club has ever held both of Europe’s top prizes at the same time, albeit for a ten-day period between the Finals of the two major competitions in May.
Nevertheless, that will surely be only a small consolation to owner Roman Abramovich who was looking for the club to build on their dramatic Champions League triumph and provide more of a challenge to the two Manchester clubs in the title race.
Full name: Chelsea Football Club
Stadium: Stamford Bridge
Owner: Roman Abramovich
Chairman: Bruce Buck
Interim Manager: Rafael Benitez
2011/12: Premier League (6th), UEFA Champions League (winners), FA Cup (winners), League Cup (Fifth Round).
Record league victory: 8-0 v Wigan Athletic, Premier League, 09/05/2010,
Record league defeat: 1-8 v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Division One, 26/09/1953
Record transfer fee paid: £50m to Liverpool for Fernando Torres, 31/01/2011
Record transfer fee received: £24m from Real Madrid for Arjen Robben, 22/08/2007
Rafael Benitez – In Profile
Rafael Benitez may not have been the popular choice when he was appointed as Chelsea’s interim manager in November . . . but he knows exactly what will win over those doubting that he is the right man for the job.
The final outcome of any popularity contest will be dependent on winning matches and, of course, trophies for the 52-year-old Spaniard as he tries to satisfy owner Roman Abramovich’s craving for more success on all fronts.
Benitez stepped into the breach following the departure of Roberto Di Matteo who was relieved of his duties barely six months after he had guided Chelsea to the prize Abramovich wanted most of all, the UEFA Champions League.
It signalled a return to management for the former Liverpool boss who had parted company with Inter Milan almost two years earlier after an unhappy six month spell in charge at the San Siro Stadium where he had an incredibly hard act to follow after the Italian giants had won a unique treble under Jose Mourinho.
Benitez established a reputation for being one of Europe’s top coaches, initially with Valencia and then in a six year spell at Anfield.
After guiding Valencia to two La Liga titles and the UEFA Cup, he was named Liverpool’s manager in 2004 and could hardly have made a bigger impact in his first season by guiding the club to a memorable Champions League triumph.
He also won the FA Cup in the following season, but could not deliver the Premier League title which Liverpool desperately wanted, despite finishing runners-up in 2008-09, and the final months of his reign were overshadowed by the struggle over the ownership of the club.
Tony Pulis has confirmed that there are no new major injury worries to contend with for the game.
The Potters, who go into it vying to prolong a 17-game unbeaten home record, are still expected to make changes to the side from the one that battled out a goalless draw with Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The likes of Kenwyne Jones, Asmir Begovic and Glenn Whelan were all rested for the trip to London last week, however, Pulis has indicated that all three could return to the side against the Champions League holders.
“It’s a three-game week, so we will take a look at one or two things, and do what we think is best,” he said.
“One or two lads were rested for the Cup game last weekend and they are chomping at the bit to come back into the side this weekend.
“I'm 90 percent sure on what the team will be, but there are just one or two other positions to decide upon over the next 24 hours.”
Queens Park Rangers v Tottenham Hotspur (12:45)
Aston Villa v Southampton
Everton v Swansea City
Fulham v Wigan Athletic
Norwich City v Newcastle United
Reading v West Bromwich Albion
STOKE CITY v CHELSEA
Sunderland v West Ham United
Manchester United v Liverpool (Sunday, 13:30)
Arsenal v Manchester City (Sunday, 16:00)
All fixtures to be played at 15:00 on Saturday unless otherwise stated.
League: 22 Stoke City wins; 18 draws; 37 Chelsea wins
FA Cup: 1 Stoke City win; 0 draws; 3 Chelsea wins
League Cup: 4 Stoke City wins; 3 draws; 0 Chelsea wins
TOTAL: 27 Stoke City wins; 21 draws; 40 Chelsea wins
Last Five Encounters
Chelsea 1-0 Stoke City (Premier League) – 22/09/2012
Chelsea 1-0 Stoke City (Premier League) – 10/03/2012
Stoke City 0-0 Chelsea (Premier League) – 14/08/2011
Stoke City 1-1 Chelsea (Premier League) – 02/04/2011
Chelsea 2-0 Stoke City (Premier League) – 28/08/2010
Stoke City win 16/5; Chelsea win 10/11; draw 12/5
Referee – Andre Marriner
In the last six matches Andre Marriner has refereed, the home team has lost… so Stoke City will hoping that jinx comes to an end this Saturday.
That run stretches back to Sheffield Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Bristol City on December 8th, with the most recent game being Mansfield’s narrow defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup last weekend.
This will be his first visit to the Britannia Stadium this season, although he did officiate in the Potters’ 1-0 defeat to Norwich City at Carrow Road in November last year.
He was also in charge at Elland Road for Chelsea’s 5-1 thrashing of Leeds United in their Capital One Cup quarter-final just before Christmas.
Marriner refereed the meeting between the Potters and the Blues in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge last year, and sent-off Ricardo Fuller in 25th minute as the hosts ran out 1-0 winners.
In his 17 games this season, he has dished out 57 yellow cards but no reds.