Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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Stoke suffering with a defensive crisis ahead of Chelsea clash

Stoke are in the midst of a defensive crisis ahead of Saturday's trip to reigning champions Chelsea, with Mark Hughes set to be missing three centre-backs.

The Premier League's most porous defence, one that has leaked 41 goals in 20 games, will likely be without Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi and Kurt Zouma at Stamford Bridge.

Shawcross was forced off in Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Huddersfield while loanee Zouma is ineligible to feature against his parent club and Martins Indi remains out due to a groin problem.

The Potters ended the contest against the Terriers with midfielder Geoff Cameron at centre-back and centre-half Kevin Wimmer at left-back, and Hughes will almost certainly be forced to use more players out of position at the weekend.

"We were affected once again by injuries in defensive areas, we lost our captain very early on in the game," Hughes said after the draw with Huddersfield.

"That's been the story since the beginning of the season. It was very makeshift towards the end.

"We think it's a calf strain for Ryan. It might be that he's got a kick on it and has a bit of a spasm in there. We're hoping that's the case and it's the best-case scenario for us. The reality is he's done some damage to his calf and he'll be unavailable.

"It emphasises our lack of defensive cover at the moment. Kurt Zouma's unavailable at the weekend because it's against his parent club. We're a little bit short at the moment.

"We might be able to get Erik Pieters back at the weekend. That will be touch and go. Bruno's probably another two-and-a-half weeks away."

Chelsea thrashed an injury-hit Stoke side 4-0 earlier in the season when Hughes' team started the contest with two forwards as wing-backs and ended it with no recognised centre-half.

They were at least able to fight back against Huddersfield having seen the Terriers go ahead in the 10th minute through Tom Ince's first Premier League goal in almost four years.

The 25-year-old opened his account for the Terriers with his 45th shot in the division this season and boss David Wagner is confident Ince will be more prolific in the campaign's second half now his drought is done.

"Performance-wise he has played a very good season so far, (but) in terms of end product he and we expect more from him," Wagner admitted.

"He had some assists, (but) not enough, and he had no goals so far. On Tuesday he scored his first one and now it's the second part of the season and he scored his first goal.

"This is a perfect moment for him, an important goal for us. I'm absolutely sure further will follow."

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