Stoke City vs Chelsea: Chelsea can wear the Premier League crown if they top the tree at Christmas

Anything but a defeat by two goals or more would leave Blues top of the table on Christmas morning

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At the time of year when family, reflections and resolutions fill the mind, the Premier League leaders Chelsea head to Stoke City tomorrow tonight seeking to put down their own festive marker.

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Anything but a defeat by two goals or more would leave Chelsea top of the table on Christmas morning – a present recent history suggests Jose Mourinho will turn into silverware.

For all three of Chelsea’s Premier League triumphs they also led the table on Christmas Day. In Mourinho’s first campaign the Blues were  five points clear of Arsenal after a 4-0 win over Norwich, and a year later a 2-0 triumph at Arsenal meant they led Manchester United by nine points prior to retaining the crown. In the 2009-10 season, Carlo Ancelotti’s men were four points beyond United ahead of their third title.

The team top on 25 December has gone on to take the prize seven times in the last decade, but tonight’s trip may not be plain sailing for Chelsea. The Blues returned empty-handed from last December’s trip to Stoke, and Mark Hughes’ side have maintained their record against leading teams in this campaign.

Aston Villa, Leicester, Southampton and Burnley have all departed the Britannia with victories this season, but the Potters have excelled against the supposedly brighter lights.

An August win at champions Manchester City was followed by a triumph at Tottenham Hotspur last month, with Hughes’ side also five minutes from a merited point at Anfield and left to rue two late goal-line clearances in a slender 2-1 defeat at Manchester United this month.

 

It was the 3-2 victory over Arsenal a fortnight ago that underlined the dangers facing Chelsea tomorrow, with Bojan Krkic and Peter Crouch in particular linking up well to terrorise the visiting defence. Hughes has been delighted with the little and large pairing in recent weeks.

“It is not quite [John] Toshack and [Kevin] Keegan, because Bojan is a little bit of a different player,” the manager said. “But certainly it worked against Arsenal and, with the support we had from the wide guys as well, it was a good mix. We need to replicate that if we are going to overcome a very good Chelsea side, and that is our intention and hope.”

After a quiet beginning, Bojan’s career in the West Midlands has flourished in recent months – he scored in the victories over both Tottenham and Arsenal and provided a creative spark not always associated with a Stoke side.

His displays have earned comparisons with another former Barcelona midfielder, Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas, whom he will face tonight.

“Fabregas has been a top player for a long time, but in the future, who knows how good Bojan can be?” Hughes enthused of the 24-year-old. “Nobody knows at the moment.

“Fabregas is a player I have a great deal of respect for. We had a little set-to one year, but I was really impressed by his behaviour after and I have a lot of time for him as a person and as a player. There are also similarities between their personalities. They are both outstanding players and humble young men as well.”

Chelsea overcame last December’s loss at Stoke to go three months unbeaten in the league. More recently, Mourinho’s side triumphed at Derby in the League Cup in midweek – but they have won just one of their last four away league matches. Victory tonight could have the silver polish and open-top bus tours booked for next May, though.

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