Stoked Up

Chelsea take on Stoke City today in what could be a pivotal match in the outcome of the Premier League this season.

With Manchester United beating Tottenham yesterday afternoon, Chelsea now find themselves two points behind the league leaders albeit with this afternoon’s game in hand.

With John Terry suspended due to his sending off against Spurs, the returning Ivanovic should partner Alex in the center of defence, with Ferreira keeping his spot at right back. Ashley Cole should also start after returning from ankle injury and also due to another niggling injury to Zhirkov.

In the middle Lampard will take the captains armband, and expect to see Ballack utilised for his height and strength, to try and negate the aerial and physical game Stoke will want to play.

Deco and Malouda will hopefully be the creative spark that undoes Stoke for this one, with a front pairing of Drogba and Anelka expected, despite the formers groin injury. If Drogba is unable to play, expect Kalou to make the starting XI

Chelsea are also without Michael Essien (knee), Ricardo Carvalho (ankle), John Obi Mikel (ankle) and Jose Bosingwa (knee), with none expected to make the final few matches of the season.

Tony Pullis side should have defensive lynchpin Ryan Shawcross back in the starting XI after returning from injury, whilst Robert Huth will also return to his old stamping ground.

Rory Delap will be the player Chelsea need to watch closest, with Stoke favouring a direct aerial approach, and Chelsea conceding more goals from set plays than anyone else this season, our title challenge could live or die on how we handle him.

Ladbrokes have Chelsea at 1/8 on for the victory and 7/1 the draw, whilst Stoke are a massive 18/1 to steal all three points. They seem to think it’s a foregone conclusion, if only it was that simple.

Chelsea (from): Cech, Hilario, Turnbull, A Cole, Kalou, Alex, Drogba, Malouda, Lampard, Deco, Anelka, Zhirkov, J Cole, Belletti, Ballack, Kakuta, Sturridge, Ferreira, Bruma, Ivanovic.

Stoke (from): Sorensen, Huth, Abdoulaye Faye, Collins, Lawrence, Whelan, Whitehead, Delap, Etherington, Kitson, Fuller, Tuncay, Pugh, Wilkinson, Moult, Amdy Faye, Begovic, Beattie, Sidibe.