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Thursday 28 August 2014

Hughes: Best time to face Blues

Published 04/04/2014 | 17:57

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Mark Hughes knows his side are in top form as they prepare for Chelsea

Stoke boss Mark Hughes claims there cannot be a better time for his side to take on Chelsea - but is wary of a backlash this weekend.

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The Potters travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday hoping to take advantage of the title-chasing Londoners' recent wobbles.

Chelsea lost top spot as they suffered a second defeat in three Barclays Premier League outings last weekend, a result since compounded by a Champions League reverse at Paris St Germain.

Stoke, by contrast, are enjoying their best spell of the season having lost just once in their last nine games, and won their last three, to rise to 10th in the table.

Hughes said: "If ever there was a right time to go to a club such as Chelsea, it is when you are going there as a team in form. Our current form is arguably better than Chelsea's.

"From our point of view it is certainly the best time to be going, b ut what you find with top clubs is they bounce back very quickly.

"When questions are asked of them, more often than not, top teams and top players have the answers.

"We have got to be mindful of that and be ready for something of a backlash."

Stoke have already beaten Chelsea once this term after Oussama Assaidi - currently sidelined with a knee injury - struck a last-minute winner against them at the Britannia Stadium in December.

The Blues turned the tables after that 3-2 loss by winning January's FA Cup fourth-round meeting 1-0 but Hughes feels his men have improved greatly since then.

He said: "We went there in the cup and we did okay up to a certain point, but we weren't able to force the issue.

"I'd like to think we can improve on that performance and ask more questions this time.

"We are playing better, in comparison to where we were in January.

"I would like to think that our confidence will help us to create more chances.

"It is in a great place at the moment, it couldn't be better. There has been a really good feeling this week and we want to use that and benefit from that at the weekend.

"Going to Chelsea is never easy and Jose Mourinho's record as manager of Chelsea is absolutely unbelievable.

"It will take some undoing, but that is our intention."

Victory for Stoke would deal a hefty blow to Chelsea's title ambitions.

Mourinho has already said his side have lost the chance to finish top, with Liverpool and Manchester City having seized the initiative, but former Chelsea striker Hughes does not believe that.

He said: "I think Jose has been talking for a long time about the fact they are underdogs and they are not likely to win it but they are certainly still in it. I think that is obvious to everybody.

"It is going to go right to the wire, I would suggest."

For Hughes, who has enjoyed an encouraging first season with the Potters, the target is to secure the club's first top-half finish in the Premier League.

He said: "It would be fantastic if we were able to achieve that. It won't be be easy because there are a lot of clubs around us that will have something to say about that.

"We have put ourselves in a position to be able to do it and that is all we wanted with six games to go."

Chelsea enter this weekend's fixtures two points behind leaders Liverpool and two ahead of Manchester City, who have two games in hand. Both sides have far superior goal differences.

Mourinho is determined to finish the season strongly and is pleased Chelsea have stayed in contention this term after finishing 25 and 14 points adrift in the last two campaigns.

"We were always in a virtual position and I always said we don't depend on us," Mourinho said.

"What I like is the fact that with such a difference in goals, the difference in points is not so big.

"We are there, two points behind Liverpool and I don't know two, three, four behind Man City.

"Even with some difficulties we could improve and we can start next season thinking we can do even better."

Ramires' suspension concludes against Stoke, while Ashley Cole is available again following a knee injury and Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah are back after being ineligible against PSG.

Recalling December's defeat at Stoke, Mourinho added: "We lost because we made a couple of unbelievable mistakes. One of the not many matches where we made defensive mistakes. A difficult opponent."

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