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Stoke City v Chelsea: Relentless Blues to continue march to the title

Conte's side are unbeaten in 11 since their blip at White Hart Lane
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Chelsea are coasting to the Premier League title and Evan Bartlett can't see Stoke providing too much of a test on Saturday. But he has found a bit of value in the Blues...


"Stoke are yet to win a single game against a side in the top half of the table this season, picking up just five points in their 14 matches against fellow top 10 teams. It is perhaps understandable therefore that Hughes' men are outsiders at [6.6] to win this one."

Stoke City v Chelsea
Saturday 18 March, 15.00


Stoke

Mark Hughes has quietly gone about his business at Stoke City. The Welshman took over from his much heralded compatriot Tony Pulis, who had established the Potters as a Premier League outfit, and has pushed them on into regulars in the top half of the table.

Where Hughes has differed from his predecessor is in the type of football his team plays. Not that they lack players grit. The likes of Ryan Shawcross and Jonathan Walters - both remnants of the Pulis era - provide some steel to the flair players Hughes has added, but there is often a feeling that Stoke can be bullied a bit easier than they used to. A trip to Stoke is certainly not what it once was - to the extent that the old cliche about a cold, wet Tuesday in the Potteries is now rarely heard.

While Hughes probably does not receive the credit he deserves for the transformation of Stoke into a more attractive footballing side, he does need to show more ambition.

The Potters have finished 9th in each of Hughes' three seasons at the Bet365 and find themselves in that position once again this term. With a limp FA Cup defeat to Wolves in January and in the League Cup to Hull in September there is now a feeling that their season is already over. What, really, do they have to play for?

With two months of the season still left - and little motivation for his players - the last thing Hughes needs right now is a visit from his former side, the all-conquering Chelsea.

Stoke will be without Xherdan Shaqiri and Jack Butland through injury.


Chelsea

Chelsea's defeat at White Hart Lane in the first week of January felt like a turning point in this season. Before that game, the Blues were six points clear at the top of the league and cruising. The loss, unexpected in how convincing it was for Tottenham, felt like it could have derailed their season. In truth, it has proven to be the merest of blips.

Since that game, Antonio Conte's men have gone 11 unbeaten, winning nine, and are now as short as [1.11] to win the title. Their victory over Manchester United on Monday night also saw them cruise into the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

There is no doubt Chelsea have been aided by a lack of injuries to key players and a lack of European football this season. Backed up by this stat: according to Opta, Conte's side have used the the fewest players (21) and made the fewest changes to their starting XI (24) all season.

The Blues go into this weekend without a single injury concern once again and with two weeks of international break coming up, we can expect them to be at full strength.


Match odds

Stoke have had nearly a fortnight off prior to this game, which could work one of two ways. They could turn up extremely well drilled with their sole focus on this game, or they could find that they are slightly rusty having not played since a 0-0 draw with Manchester City 13 days before.

Even if they do feel well rested and prepared, there is little else going in their favour. The Potters only have the 11th best home record in the Premier League this season and have won just two of their last 17 matches against Chelsea.

Added to that is the remarkable statistic that Stoke are yet to win a single game against a side in the top half of the table this season, picking up just five points in their 14 matches against fellow top 10 teams. It is perhaps understandable therefore that Hughes' men are outsiders at [6.6] to win this one.

Slightly more in their favour is the fact that they are unbeaten in eight games at the Bet365. If you fancy them to nick a point, you can back the draw at [4.1].

If you fancy Chelsea to continue their good run of form, you can back them at [1.64] for the win.


Over/Under Over 2.5 Goals

Both Stoke and Chelsea's games this season average over 2.5 goals (2.57 and 2.85 respectively), but have started to drop off more recently (2.4 and 2.6 in their last 10 games respectively).

The market seems to get this about right, with the overs currently trading around [2.02] looking slightly more attractive than unders at [1.96] although not quite enough to tempt me in.


Asian Handicap

We should be fairly confident that Chelsea can pick up three points on Saturday, but at short odds of [1.61] for the outright win, we need to look elsewhere for some value.

The Blues have been consistent of late, winning five of their last seven league games, but have not been blowing sides away and are instead grinding out wins by one or two goals.

They should be much the stronger side here, though, and the markets that interest me for this game are the handicaps. Chelsea -1 can be backed at [2.74]. To collect on that bet you would need the Blues to win by two clear goals. If they win by just one, you win nothing.

A slightly stronger option would be to back Chelsea -1.0 & -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at odds of [2.41]. If the Blues win by two clear goals you pick up all your winnings. While if they win by just one you will only lose half your stake.


Recommended bets

Back Chelsea -1.0 & -1.5 in the Asian Handicap @ [2.41]


*For a full guide to Asian Handicap betting click here.


You can follow Evan on Twitter @ev_bartlett


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