Chelsea v Stoke, FA Cup quarter-final, March 7, 2010
Could it be 1972 all over again?
Thirty-eight years ago the League Cup brought together the Pensioners and the Potters in a classic cup final between the then artists and the artisans. Living up to their King’s Road reputation, Chelsea had all the glamour and style with stars like Peter Osgood, John Hollins, Norman “Chopper” Harris, Peter Bonetti and Alan Hudson leading the Blues, and they were also proving themselves on the pitch too having lifted the FA Cup and the Uefa Cup in the previous two seasons.
Facing Chelsea on that famous day were a far less glamorous Stoke side that, keeper Gordon Banks aside, included a splattering of solid professionals including Denis Smith, Mike Pejic, John Ritchie, George Eastham and Peter Dobing. Few had giving Tony Waddington’s side too much hope in the pre-match forecast, but that all changed when a long throw caused havoc in the Chelsea box, and winger Terry Conroy popped up to head in a rare goal.
Chelsea hit back before the break with an equaliser from Osgood, but 35-year-old George Eastham etched his name into folklore as he stroked the ball past Bonetti in the 73rd minute at the end of devastating break by the talented Conroy, and Stoke claimed their first ever trophy after 109-years of being in existence.
Can lightning strike twice? No doubt the memories of 1972 will have been regurgitated repeatedly this week at Stoke, and Tony Pulis will feel confident that, as underdogs, his side could once again pull off the giant-killing.
Stoke will have to do so without their influential centre-half Ryan Shawcross, who starts his three match suspension after his horror tackle on Arsenal youngster Aaron Ramsey, while defender Andrew Wilkinson is also suspended. That leaves the visitors’ defence in a bit of a pickle, with Robert Huth likely to face his former employers in a makeshift backline alongside Danny Collins. (Stoke are 10/1 to keep a clean sheet.)
Better news comes in midfield, where the Potters should welcome back Matthew Etherington on their left hand side. Etherington’s return could force Tuncay onto the bench after the Turk has struggled to find his feet in recent weeks. And should Tuncay miss out, Pulis could opt for power and physically presence up-front with the likes of Riccardo Fuller and Mamady Sidibe ready to lead the line. (Stoke are 6/1 to score in both halves.)
Key to Stokeâ€™s gameplan will be their battling spirit. Far from being headline-grabbers, Glenn Whelan and Dean Whitehead have formed a solid and combative partnership in the middle of the park, while Chelsea’s susceptibility to high balls will be put to the test by Rory Delap’s famed long throw-ins. (23/1 for the Halftime/Full-time to be Draw/Stoke.)
While Stoke arrive at the Bridge with some problems, Carlo Ancelotti’s Blues also have a large splattering of headaches to contend with too.
Chelsea looked set to go the entire season undefeated at home, however those hopes were trashed last weekend when Manchester City pulled off one of the results of the season to win 4-2 at the Bridge. The list of underperformers on that day was long for the Pensioners, with John Obi Mikel, John Terry and Hilario arguably the worst culprits on a trying day for the west Londoners.
Aside from long term absentees Michael Essien, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech, Chelsea will be withoutÂ Juliano Belletti and Michael Ballack who are both serving bans after being sent off against the Citizens. Elsewhere, Riccardo Carvalho is a major doubt after picking up a knock on international duty with Portugal, while question-marks also hang over the fitness of Jose Bosingwa (knee) and Yuri Zhirkhov (calf), who have both been on the sidelines for the past few weeks.
Even with all those missing-in-action, Chelsea will still be able to put out a star-studded team against the Potters. Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka will both be available to lead the line, however Ancelotti also has the option to draft in Daniel Sturridge into the attack as the youngster attempts to continue his feat of scoring in every round of the cup this season. (Chelsea are 11/8 to win both halves.)
Joe Cole, Deco, Salomon Kalou, Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel will all be vying for spots in the Blues’ midfield on Sunday, while Florent Malouda may continue to plug the gap at left-back taking into account all the injuries in the Chelsea squad. (Chelsea are 20/21 to keep a clean sheet, 21/20 against.)
Dipping into the history books, although Chelsea lost their unbeaten home record to Mancini’s charges last time out, you have to go back to April/May 2002 to find the last time that Chelsea lost back-to-back home matches, making the challenge for Stoke look that much more insurmountable. The magic of the cup means that anything is possible, but you would suspect that Tony Pulis would be more than happy to grab a draw (11/1 to end 1-all) and look to turn over the Blues back at the Britannia.
101gg predicts: Chelsea 2 – Stoke 1 (9/1)
Full match odds here.