Chelsea need to bounce backComment on this story
London – Rafael Benitez might not normally relish a trip to face Stoke City but recent form suggests his Chelsea side's best hope of reigniting their season lies away from Stamford Bridge.
The Londoners have looked formidable on the road, in stark contrast to the European champions' form at home where successive defeats have severely dented their bid for honours this season.
And Wednesday's 2-0 defeat by Swansea in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final provided a focus for the discontent that has been building up around the club over the past few months.
Chelsea supporters greeted the loss with fresh condemnation of both interim manager Benitez, his fellow Spaniard and misfiring striker Fernando Torres, as well as slamming the clubs failure to offer a new contract to fans' favourite Frank Lampard.
It didn't help that Chelsea's previous appearance on home turf had seen them fall to a shock 1-0 defeat to Queens Park Rangers who sit at the foot of the Premier League table, a result that all but ended the Blues' title hopes.
Those results overshadowed the impressive victory at Everton and the confident 5-1 defeat of Southampton in last weekend's FA Cup third round, Chelsea's fifth successive away win in domestic competitions.
And while Chelsea centre-back Gary Cahill has struggled to explain the pattern, it is clear Benitez's side risk further criticism if they return from the Britannia Stadium empty handed.
“I don't know what's wrong with our home form,” Cahill said. “Normally, we are unbelievably hard to beat at Stamford Bridge and we've been getting results. We just have to be consistent in what we are doing.
“We're finding it difficult at the moment when teams camp in and put up two blocks of four to break down.
“We're having all the possession but it counts for nothing unless you create a lot. In the first half against Swansea we did create chances and if you take one or two of them then they (the opposition) have to come out Ä it would have been the same thing with QPR.”
Benitez must decide whether Torres or Demba Ba offers the more effective cutting edge.
Ba scored twice on his debut against Southampton and had an effort ruled out for offside against Swansea after appearing as a late substitute, suggesting he is the striker in form.
Meanwhile Chelsea captain John Terry is nearing a return to fitness after a knee problem but is unlikely to feature this weekend.
Benitez will at least find some support at the Britannia Stadium after Stoke manager Tony Pulis called for Chelsea to make him their permanent, as opposed to “interim” boss.
“Rafa needs the opportunity – and it isn't weeks or months, you have to give people time,” said Pulis.
“Chelsea have got some fantastic players. But the instability of the club is partly to blame in lots of respects.
“You've got to let people get on with their jobs and do the job in good times and bad times. Man United have bad runs, Man City, but you have to stick with what you believe.
“Hopefully they've picked their manager now and will give him the opportunity – and it isn't weeks, not a few months, you have to give him a few years in the job to put everything in place to build a club and get the results that manager wants. You can't do it on a weekly or monthly basis.”
“The players they have could go anywhere and win a game of football.” – Sapa-AFP