Chelsea-Stoke City Preview
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Life after Diego Costa begins for Chelsea on Saturday when they travel to Stoke City's Bet365 Stadium.
Antonio Conte's Blues (3-1-1) have not enjoyed the services of the famed striker since the end of last season. But Thursday's news that the Brazilian-born Spain international is moving to Atletico Madrid ended any lingering hopes that Costa would be seen in a blue shirt again.
Costa was Chelsea's top scorer with 20 Premier League goals last season as the Blues ran away with the top-flight title. But the manager's decision to tell Costa he was no longer wanted in the squad proved terminal, with the forward going on strike and refusing to return to training when he wasn't sold in the summer transfer window.
With Costa intent on a return to his previous home at Atletico, and with the Spanish side banned from using new players until January due to transfer irregularities, a pre-transfer agreement between the two parties seemed inevitable. On Thursday, that came to pass with Chelsea breaking the news via a two-sentence statement on their official website.
However, Conte's remarks in a media conference earlier in the week hinted at the underlying reason for Costa's departure, with the Italian coach repeating his desire for squad unity to help defend the club's Premier League title.
"My idea of football is to be a team, and then the team try to extract the characteristics of the individual players," said Conte, whose team is undefeated since falling 3-2 to Burnley in the opener. "We have to stay there and try and do our best. At the end of the season, we'll see what happens. The best way is to look at ourselves. This is the best way. We have to continue to work together to try and improve.
"You know very well the difficulty of this league, to win this league. Last season we did this. But, for sure, we want to try and fight until the end (again)."
Stoke City (1-2-2) have no such off-field issues going into the latest matchday. Instead, it is on-field problems that will worry manager Mark Hughes. Stoke crashed out of the League Cup with a 2-0 loss at the hands of Bristol City in midweek, with Hughes expressing his disappointment at the result before insisting that the team will improve for this meeting with the Champions.
"I know we will be better against Chelsea on Saturday, but that isn't much consolation at the moment," Hughes told the club's official website. "We need a reaction. That's what we will drill into the players going into the Chelsea game because that was unacceptable."
Stoke are expecting to be without the injured Geoff Cameron and Ibrahim Afellay for Saturday's match, while Ryan Shawcross faces a late fitness test on a back problem. Stephen Ireland remains sidelined as he recovers from a broken leg.
Chelsea have concerns over the fitness of Pedro while summer signing Danny Drinkwater is out with a calf strain. However, there will be no lengthy lay-off for defender David Luiz, despite a broken wrist. Conte said that the centre-back will return by next week's Champions League tie at the latest.
"He must be OK," Conte said. "David is an important player for us. For sure he will be ready for the game against Atletico Madrid (next week)."
Chelsea won both meetings with Stoke last season, however Stoke have won two of the last four meetings in the Potteries.
Potters forward Xherdan Shaqiri is closing in on a Premier League record. The Swiss star's long-range strike against Newcastle last weekend was his sixth in a row from outside the penalty area. David Beckham and Turkish forward Tugay share the Premier League record of eight.
Updated September 21, 2017