Chelsea predicted XI to take on Stoke: Midfield dilemma for Conte

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and Cesc Fabregas

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has a selection conundrum as his side prepare to host Stoke City. We look at both side's potential starting line-ups.

Chelsea started 2016 as reigning Premier League champions and will end the calendar year at the division's summit. However, the intervening period has not been a smooth ride for the Blues, as the past 12 months has seen a disastrous 2015-16 campaign end and a new dawn begin - under the tutelage of Italian Antonio Conte. 

Victory against Stoke City will see Conte's Chelsea record their 13th consecutive Premier League victory, just one short of the league record - held by London rivals Arsenal. Even more impressive has been the defensive record since Conte's introduction of a three man back line, which has seen the concession of just two goals throughout their unbeaten run.

Subsequently, Chelsea are fully expected to retain the defensive unit of goalkeeper Thibaut Coutois behind the trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill

The two wing backs are also likely to continue their run in the side, meaning that Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso will flank a midfield quartet. However, Conte's main selection headache emerges in the form of his central midfield quandary.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and Cesc Fabregas

The recent suspension of N'Golo Kante has been a fantastic opportunity for Cesc Fabregas to remind Conte of his abilities, as the Spanish international's display against Bournemouth testified. Whilst Fabregas will be hopeful of a starting berth against Stoke, the productive partnership between Kante and Nemanja Matic has been a major contributor to Chelsea's faultless form - so the likely reality will see a Kante-Matic pairing with Fabregas returning to the bench.

In addition to Kante, Chelsea welcome back the talismanic Diego Costa from his recent suspension, with the striker hopeful of adding to his admirable 16 goals from 22 appearances this season.

Chelsea's N'Golo Kante in action with Sunderland's Lamine Kone

Supporting Costa will be Eden Hazard and Willian - with the latter retaining his place in the XI by virtue of Pedro's one game ban for accruing his fifth caution of the campaign against Bournemouth.

Meanwhile, Stoke travel to London without a league victory at Stamford Bridge since 1974 - and after no win in their previous four Premier League matches will certainly be viewed as the underdogs for this New Year's Eve encounter.

Potters manager Mark Hughes is still unable to select maverick midfielder Marco Arnautovic, who is suspended, whereas Marc Muniesa, Geoff Cameron and Jack Butland all remain injury absentees.

Considering Chelsea's 3-4-3 system, Hughes may decide to return to a back four, after deploying a three man back line in recent games. Goalkeeper Lee Grant should start behind former Chelsea right back Glen Johnson, captain Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi and left back Erik Pieters.

In midfield, it is expected that Glenn Whelan and Giannelli Imbula will anchor the Hughes engine room, with Joe Allen, Mame Biram Diouf and Jonathan Walters supporting the diminutive Bojan in attack. The talented Xherdan Shaqiri is pushing for a starting spot, but may have to continue his comeback from the bench.

Here is the Chelsea and Stoke predicted line-ups in full:


Stoke City

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