After a respectable effort at the home of the table-toppers, we have a look at three main take-away points from a day at Stamford Bridge.
No side really fancies going to the home of the Blues right now. Standing in the way of a 13th successive league victory, Stoke City gave Antonio Conte’s men a solid fight by all accounts…
1. Stoke City put two past Thibault Courtois
It’s not exactly a flattering achievement on first glance, granted. However, when you assess Chelsea’s recent run of form, scoring twice against them isn’t easy.
Before the visit of the Potters, Chelsea hadn’t conceded more than one league goal in a game since their 3-0 humbling at the Emirates.
In fact, prior to the game on New Year’s Eve, the Blues had only let in one goal at home in their last six matches.
For a defence that stubborn to come up against a recently blunt attack in Stoke City and concede two must a say a lot about the performance.
The height of Peter Crouch is threat to any defence in any league. Perhaps though, it was a different threat entirely for the Chelsea back line to contend with.
2. Return of Ibrahim Afellay
It’s been a long time coming.
Afellay made a partial return to first-team action against Liverpool at Anfield after Boxing Day. Coming off the bench, Mark Hughes gave the Dutchman 15 minutes.
At Chelsea, however, Afellay came into the starting XI. The re-introduction of the playmaker however has meant that Hughes has had to reshuffle the pack slightly.
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Reverting to a 4-3-3 shape, Afellay played in a wider role alongside Crouch and Xherdan Shaqiri.
3. Too many options for Mark Hughes?
The return of Afellay is of course a great thing for Stoke City and Hughes. Does it though, provide its own issues?
The Dutchman was deployed in an advanced attacking position, as you may expect. To make room for the change though, it meant that Joe Allen was forced to play deeper.
Going back to his older, less offensively-producing days, the Welshman found himself guarding the back-four.
While he isn’t exactly unaccustomed to be playing in this role, Allen has found a new lease of life playing just in behind the lone striker. I can’t help but now think that he is not only better in that position, but also better at it than where he played against Chelsea.
Perhaps Hughes just wanted an experienced head in there to help control the midfield. I do though fear Stoke City may lose some attacking impetus should Allen be played deeper in matches ahead.
Hughes also has the return of Marko Arnautovic to consider. The Austrian is still out injured, but with the switch to 4-3-3 to accommodate Afellay, someone is going to have to miss out.
Mame Biram Diouf has been industrious since coming back into the fold. He will need to be considered also.
Hughes has enough cover in the holding midfield position I feel to not need to play Allen there. But perhaps he feels as though both Allen and Afellay must play.
Who knows, but on the evidence of Allen’s season thus far, it would be rash to call it day to accommodate one player.