Blues set for high-stakes Stoke clash

STOKE-ON-TRENT - Jose Mourinho knows Chelsea must avoid a repeat of last season's nightmare trip to Stoke if they are to re-establish their three-point lead at the top of the Premier League today.

Mourinho's men travel to the Britannia Stadium 48 hours after Manchester City's 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace drew the champions level on points with the Blues.

City are behind the leaders only on goal difference and, while Chelsea boss Mourinho insists his team will not feel any extra pressure, anything less than victory will hand Manuel Pellegrini's team a major lift heading into the busy Christmas period.

If Chelsea are to reassert their early standing as favourites to be crowned champions, they must improve on last December's showing at Stoke, when individual errors contributed to the hosts' 3-2 victory.

But Mourinho is confident his team have learnt their lesson and are more than capable of matching Mark Hughes' side.

"We played so well collectively last season but we made two individual mistakes that cost us the game. This is also part of the sport," Mourinho said.

"We have to play our football. Our football is the way we believe.

"That's part of our project for this club. We have to go there and play our game, but we know well their qualities as a team, and their qualities individually.

"We also have to adapt to it. If we know we are going to play against Peter Crouch and against the kind of defenders they have - if you don't adapt to that, you are in trouble.

"We can adapt to that because we have qualities that allow us to do that."

The 2.03m-tall Crouch's aerial threat and Stoke's physical strengths will provide a testing examination for Mourinho's line-up, which should include fit-again goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

But the Portuguese manager is confident his team can negotiate the festive programme successfully.

"Every team have to play these four matches in a short period of time. Everyone is in the same circumstances," he said.

"For us, it's difficult - three away games and only one at home, a London derby against one of the best teams in the competition.

"The three away games are Tottenham, Southampton and Stoke, so difficult for us. But we are ready."

Stoke manager Hughes has backed his team to cause the league leaders problems and pounce on any weaknesses.

The 13th-ranked Potters boast the second-best record in the 20-team Premier League against top-half sides after City, and have already beaten Arsenal, City and Tottenham this season.

Conversely, they have yet to beat anyone in their half of the table, making for a frustratingly inconsistent start for Hughes.

"We're not doing well against the bottom-half sides and that's frustrated us," he said.

"I just feel that when we go up against the so-called bigger teams, they are prepared to come out and attack and back their own ability. That can leave them a little bit exposed and we have been able to exploit their weaknesses.

"(But) we find it more difficult when teams get lots of men behind the ball.

"The top teams will back their skill and ability against yours. But on any given day, we can beat anybody in this league and we have proven that this year."