Stoke is the fixture to fear



Chelsea's N'Golo Kante scores the winning goal. PICTURE: ACTION IMAGES

Of Chelsea’s remaining away trips, this weekend’s is the toughest.

The Blues travel to Stoke buoyed by the FA Cup quarter-final win against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.

It means Chelsea meet Spurs at Wembley in the semi – a rehearsal for when both clubs lodge there during their respective ground redevelopments.

Antonio Conte (and managers of all the top clubs) know that an away game at Stoke is a fixture to fear.

Chelsea still have to travel to Bournemouth, Old Trafford, West Brom and Everton this season, but it’s Mark Hughes’ tactical nous that offers the toughest challenge.

Victor Moses is a doubt after injuring his left ankle and limping off the pitch towards the end of the gritty match against Man U at the start of the week.

In a way the early sending-off of Ander Herrera spoilt that tie… but deep down, despite his sarcastic smiles and sneers, Jose Mourinho knows referee Michael Oliver had little choice.

Herrera appeared to be tasked with targeting Eden Hazard, with the two yellows for rash tackles on Chelsea’s nippy No10 coming less than 20 minutes apart.

Each seemed calculated and deliberate, and each appeared to merit a card.

It was a shame, as the fixture was finely poised. If anything, United had the better of the early exchanges.

But 10-man United couldn’t muster enough threats to nullify Chelsea’s possession, patient build-up play and dominance.

N’Golo Kante produced the only goal, six minutes after the interval break, fooling David De Gea into stepping too far in one direction, only to angle his long-range shot into the opposite corner.

It was a tetchy, sometimes ugly affair, with Mourinho and Antonio Conte having to be separated on the touchline.

Chelsea also face Spurs in the FA Youth Cup semi second leg at the Bridge this Saturday… moments after the final whistle brings the first team’s match at Stoke to an end.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

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