Chelsea V Stoke at Stamford Bridge : Match Preview

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30 December 2016
Chelsea V Stoke - view commentary, squad, and statistics of the game live.


Conte confident Courtois can be kept

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte insists Thibaut Courtois is staying at Chelsea despite reported overtures from Real Madrid.

The 24-year-old Belgium international spent three years on loan from Chelsea at Atletico Madrid before displacing Petr Cech as the Blues' first-choice goalkeeper.

Courtois has since been linked with a return to Madrid, with Real, prompting suggestions he could be offered a new contract with Premier League leaders Chelsea.

"I think it's not important to clarify the situation," Conte said.

"He stays with us and this is the most important thing. The other situations are only speculation.

"Thibaut is, for me, one of the best - if not the best - goalkeepers in the world.

"This season he's playing very well, and you can see that he's not only very good with his hands but also with his feet.

"Yes, I think he's a complete goalkeeper. He's a model goalkeeper."

Chelsea, with Courtois in goal, have conceded just twice and scored 28 times in a 12-game winning run ahead of Saturday's New Year's Eve clash with Stoke.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger labelled Conte's side the "super-favourites" and said the title was Chelsea's to lose on Friday.

But the Italian played down the comments, pointing to the fact that the halfway point of the season follows Saturday's game.

He also says Chelsea must be on their guard to keep their winning sequence going.

"At the start of the season, not one coach, not one person, not one journalist trusted in this team to fight for the title in this league this season," Conte said.

"To have 12 wins in a row is a great achievement, but it's not enough to win the league at this point of the season.

"I'm pleased that the opinion is changing. I'm a bit worried because, when the opinion changes quickly, you must pay attention.

"We have only six points more than the second team (Manchester City), and seven from the third team (Liverpool).

"It's a long way before we arrive at the end of the season."

Chelsea have been fortunate with injuries this term and survived the enforced absence of striker Diego Costa and midfielder N'Golo Kante in Boxing Day's 3-0 defeat of Bournemouth.

Pedro is now banned, but Costa and Kante are likely to return from one-match suspensions.

Club captain John Terry is training following a gluteal strain, but is likely to have to be patient before making his competitive return.

Stoke will head to Stamford Bridge firmly believing they can be the ones to halt Chelsea's remarkable winning streak, Potters boss Mark Hughes has stressed.

The club's last outing saw them suffer a 4-1 loss at second-placed Liverpool on Tuesday.

But Hughes thinks there were definitely positive signs in terms of his side's performance in that match, during which they went 1-0 up.

And he feels his players' frustration at the eventual result - plus confidence from securing a 1-1 draw at Chelsea last season - will strengthen them for their daunting-looking assignment this weekend.

Regarding his old club Chelsea's form, Hughes said: "The run they are on at the moment is absolutely outstanding, but that run will come to an end at some point.

"I don't think anyone thinks that from now until the end of the season they will win every game.

"We're going into it with the intention of stopping the run if we can - and why can't it be us?

"We were disappointed with the margin of defeat in the end against Liverpool, but until their equaliser, I thought we caused them a real problem.

"We went into it really positive, and we showed in that initial period that we can cause good teams problems.

"The key is to be able to do it for more than half an hour or so - so that is the intention and hope in terms of our improvement at the weekend.

"There was frustration from our point of view at how the game panned out on Tuesday, so we will use that frustration to help us in our performance at the weekend I'm sure.

"And we went there last year and got our first point at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League, which proves we have good talent in our team."

Stoke welcome back Phil Bardsley following injury but Marko Arnautovic is still suspended and Marc Muniesa, Geoff Cameron (both knee) and Jack Butland (ankle) also remain unavailable.


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