Ahead of what was already being billed as ‘mission impossible’ Stoke City will travel to take on Premier League champions Chelsea without their three first-choice central defenders.

Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi will certainly miss out, with both nursing injuries, whilst Kurt Zouma is ineligible to play against his parent club, leaving the middle of the Potters’ defence looking extremely threadbare.

“We have got long-term injuries with Bruno Martins Indi,” manager Mark Hughes revealed in his pre-match press conference, as reported by Football.London.

“He’s still about two or three weeks away.

“Ryan Shawcross will be out for two or three weeks. Kurt Zouma can’t play because it’s his parent club and Glen Johnson is unavailable.

“So we’ve got a few problems, but we will make the best of them.”

The injury crisis means that Stoke may have to look towards their youngsters, something that they have been reluctant to do in recent years.

18-year-old academy graduate Tom Edwards has started the last two games and even put in a man-of-the-match performance in a 3-1 win against West Bromwich Albion last week; he looks set to continue on the right side of defence.

Hughes confirmed that senior left-back Erik Pieters is struggling for fitness after the Dutchman sat out the 1-1 draw at Huddersfield Town on Boxing Day.

Kevin Wimmer deputised at the John Smith Stadium but the big Austrian looks likely to be shifted to his more familiar centre-back role with Geoff Cameron alongside.

Pieters’ failure to recover could leave the door ajar for Josh Tymon, another young prospect signed from Hull City at the start of the summer.

In midfield, Hughes’ men face no additional selection problems with Darren Fletcher and Joe Allen likely to continue their partnership.

The veteran Scot has looked jaded in recent games but the Potters will need him to be on top form if they are to rescue anything from the trip to Stamford Bridge.

Ahead of them, Hughes looks set to stick with the mercurial Xherdan Shaqiri, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and the in-form Ramadan Sobhi.

The youngster has scored in each of Stoke’s last two games and will be hoping to continue that run against a reshuffled Chelsea backline.

The effervescent Peter Crouch will likely spearhead the Potters’ attack.

There have been calls from some supporters for Hughes to utilise the pace of Saido Berahino and Mame Biram Diouf but the experience of the 36-year-old former-England international and his ability at set pieces in both penalty areas may be preferred.

Stoke will do well to get anything from this game, but the current injury crisis allowing the opportunity for promising youngsters to get their chance will provide the silver-lining to what could very well be a pretty dark cloud over Stamford Bridge this afternoon.


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