Stoke lacking 'tools' to compete with Chelsea - Mark Hughes
Mark Hughes knew his weakened Stoke side would not beat Chelsea even before their thumping defeat on Saturday.
Hughes made six changes and rested key players at Stamford Bridge, including Xherdan Shaqiri, Joe Allen and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, as Chelsea duly strolled to a 5-0 victory.
Stoke were three goals down in 23 minutes and the emphatic nature of their loss left Hughes open to accusations of failing even to put up a fight.
But the Welshman defended his selection by insisting his players would stand a better chance of success in Monday's more winnable fixture at home to Newcastle.
"We didn't have enough tools to affect a very good Chelsea side -- we understood that before the game, we understood it after -- but we're in better shape on Monday,'' Hughes said.
"Even with my strongest team ... there is an expectation that we could get beat.
"Our record there is poor and I think I'm the only Premier League manager in Stoke's history who has got a point there. Our record isn't here to be enhanced or protected -- we haven't got a record there.
"It was one of those decisions where sometimes you have to take it on the chin. I don't like the fact I had to make key decisions that on the face of it looked like I weakened us because I'm not like that as a person. I want to win every game I go into.''
Stoke's four fixtures over the Christmas period stretch over 10 days, two fewer than Chelsea, who have an extra 48 hours to prepare for their game against Arsenal on Wednesday.
Of the Premier League's top six, no team will have endured a more congested schedule than that which faced the Potters.
Manchester United were given 10 days for their four games, with Manchester City and Liverpool given 11, Chelsea 12, and Arsenal and Tottenham both 13.
"We know this period tests everybody but you'd like everybody to be tested the same way,'' Hughes said.
"We take the TV money and the pound of flesh and this is when we have to pay it back I suppose.
"But it's harder for us because we don't have the strength in depth that the top teams have, and they can turn it on very, very quickly and go again. But when we have to do that, it tests us more than the bigger clubs.''
Ten points already separate Tottenham in sixth and Leicester in eighth, and as the fight to avoid relegation intensifies some sides may prioritise bottom-of-the-table battles over swings at the top six.
Hughes, however, believes his Stamford Bridge decision was a one-off.
"It's not that I don't think we can go up against these teams and compete,'' Hughes said.
"Given a fair wind and without a poor period of recovery between our game [on Saturday] and Monday I would have gone stronger, but the fact we're playing on Monday meant I couldn't.
"It's the schedule, not that we would question the integrity and don't feel we can have a go against these top teams.''