Stoke City manager Mark Hughes believes Chelsea are capable of winning all their remaining Premier League games, but is out to halt their improved form at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Champions Chelsea were 16th when Jose Mourinho left the club in December and was swiftly replaced by interim manager Guus Hiddink.
A first-leg lost to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last 16 represents Chelsea’s only defeat in the Dutchman’s second spell in charge.
Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Norwich City moved Chelsea into the top half, but Saturday’s visit of Stoke will offer a sterner test – Hughes’ men are seventh after a midweek 1-0 success over Newcastle United.
Three successive Premier League wins have Stoke “bang on track” after a poor start to 2016, according to former Chelsea striker Hughes, although the Welshman says Nemanja Matic’s assertion that the Blues can win all their remaining league games carries weight.
“They have a chance to salvage their season which is incredible really given the situation they were in not too long ago,” Hughes said.
“For whatever reason they struggled early on but since the change in manager they have really kicked on.
“I don’t know why that has happened because they had world-class players at the start of the campaign too. One of their lads has said that they will be looking to win every game now.
“With it being a Chelsea player saying that you have to take note, because they are one of the only clubs in the league who could achieve that.”
Hiddink could be without Kenedy (groin), while Pedro (hamstring) and captain John Terry (muscle) are also doubtful.
But Hughes will have little sympathy for his opposite number amid a defensive injury crisis at the Britannia Stadium that sees Phil Bardsley (calf), Ryan Shawcross (back) and Glen Johnson (knee) ruled out.
Geoff Cameron is also a doubt with a knock as Hughes seeks to end Stoke’s wait for a Premier League win at Stamford Bridge.
“To a certain extent our season is in our own hands. If we can take points off side who are in and around us then we will finish strongly,” he added.
“We have good games at home against the likes of West Ham and Tottenham and have to travel to Liverpool and Manchester City.
“There are some really interesting games from our point of view, and we are looking forward to them. We can beat our target from last season.”
Key Opta stats:
– Hiddink is unbeaten in his 11 Premier League games as Chelsea manager in this spell – no manager has gone 12 unbeaten at the start of a single spell as a manager at a Premier League club.
– Hughes played three seasons for Chelsea – scoring 25 goals in 95 Premier League appearances.
– Hughes has lost 30 and won none of his last 34 Premier League matches as a coach at Anfield, Emirates or Highbury, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge combined.
– The Potters have won just one of their last 14 Premier League away trips to London (W1 D5 L8).
– Diego Costa has scored or assisted 12 goals in his last 10 Premier League appearances (eight goals, four assists).