Chelsea eye 13th consecutive victory ahead of Stoke tie


LONDON–Chelsea pair Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante are available to face Stoke after serving one-match suspensions.

However, Pedro is banned after picking up his fifth booking of the season against Bournemouth.

Stoke defender Phil Bardsley could return to the squad after a six-week absence with a knee injury.

Marko Arnautovic is still suspended, while Marc Muniesa, Geoff Cameron and Jack Butland all remain unavailable because of injuries.

If Chelsea do record a record-equalling 13th successive top-flight win, they are guaranteed to head into 2017 in an even more commanding position because their two nearest challengers, Liverpool and Manchester, must face each other later in the day.

Antonio Conte’s side look so strong – consider the fact that key pair Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante weren’t missed on Boxing Day when they sat out the victory over Bournemouth because of suspension.

“You wouldn’t give Stoke much chance. Their season has fallen into three parts: a poor start, resurgence and now no win in four.

“It tells you something that midfielder Joe Allen is their top scorer with five goals. Manager Mark Hughes may well try and find a solution in the transfer window

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte: “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.

“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 [also]a bit worried because, when the opinion changes quickly, you must pay attention.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes: “The run they are on at the moment is absolutely outstanding, but that run will come to an end at some point.

“We’re going into it with the intention of stopping the run if we can – and why can’t it be us?

“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.”