Jose Mourinho knows Chelsea must avoid a repeat of last season’s nightmare trip to Stoke City if they are to re-establish their three-point lead at the top of the English Premier League.
Mourinho’s side travel to the Britannia Stadium 48 hours after Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace drew the champions level on points with the Blues.
City are behind the leaders only on goal-difference and while Chelsea boss Mourinho insists his team would not feel any extra pressure, anything less than victory today would hand Manuel Pellegrini’s team a major lift heading into the busy Christmas period.
If they are to reassert their early standing as favorites to be crowned champions, Chelsea must improve on December last year’s showing at Stoke, when individual errors contributed to the home side’s 3-2 victory, but Mourinho is confident his team have learned their lesson and are more than capable of matching Mark Hughes’ side.
“We played so well collectively last season, but we made two individual mistakes that cost us the game. This is also part of the game,” Mourinho said. “We have to play our football. Our football is the way we believe. That’s part of our project for this club. We have to go there and play our game, but we know well their qualities as a team and their qualities individually.”
“We also have to adapt to it. If we know we are going to play against Peter Crouch and against the kind of defenders they have — if you don’t adapt to that, you are in trouble,” he said. “We can adapt to that because we have qualities that allow us to do that.”
Crouch’s aerial threat and Stoke’s physical strengths are likely to provide a testing examination for Mourinho’s lineup, which should include fit-again goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, but the Blues manager is confident his team can negotiate the festive program successfully.
“Every team has to play these four matches in a short period of time. Everyone is in the same circumstances,” Mourinho said. “For us it’s difficult — three away games and only one at home, a London derby against one of the best teams in the competition. The three away games are Tottenham [Hotspur], Southampton and Stoke, so difficult for us, but we are ready.”
Stoke manager Hughes has backed his team to trouble the league leaders and pounce on any weaknesses.
The Potters boast the second-best record in the Premier League against top-half sides after Manchester City and have already beaten Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham this season.
Conversely, they are yet to beat anyone in their half of the table, making for a frustratingly inconsistent start for Hughes.
“We’re not doing well against the bottom-half sides and that’s frustrated us,” Hughes said. “I just feel that when we go up against the so-called bigger teams they are prepared to come out and attack, and back their own ability. That can leave them a little bit exposed and we have been able to exploit their weaknesses.”
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