After a difficult and emotionally-charged week, the last thing you would expect Stoke to want is an FA Cup tie at Stamford Bridge to take on the holders Chelsea. But it is something they will thrive on, according to their midfielder Salif Diao. Stoke have gained a reputation of making life difficult for the big teams, as Arsenal and Manchester City have found to their cost in this competition already. Now Carlo Ancelotti's men stand between Stoke and a place in the semi-finals for the first time since 1972.
Diao said: "We always want to beat the big clubs. Maybe 99 per cent of the people say we can't beat Chelsea and that's enough motivation for us to prove them wrong. There is no fear for us against anybody. We are a team, not individuals, and that can make a big difference." That unity has been evident this week as the players rallied around Ryan Shawcross after the defender's challenge on Aaron Ramsey left the Arsenal midfielder with a broken tibia and fibia.
Arsene Wenger, the Gunners manager, said it was a "horrendous" tackle and has refused to retract that view. But Diao thinks he should. "Sometimes you can understand those kind of comments because they are made straight after the game," he said. "The adrenaline is flowing and people can say some stuff they might regret later. We know what Ryan is like and we support him. "We told him, 'these things happen in football and there's nothing you can do'.
"The way he went to the floor himself for the tackle, he could have lost his leg also. He's been crying since the incident, it shocked him, but being with England [for the friendly against Egypt] will have helped him. "He has been performing very well and deserved the call-up. The other defenders might have more experience, but on ability, I don't think they are better than him." Shawcross was sent off for the Ramsey incident and will miss today's tie through suspension. With Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka in opposition, his presence will be missed.
But Diao, 33, said: "It's a shame Ryan will be out, but it's not about individuals with our team and the motivation will be there. It always is for games like this, but we need to be at our best to stop Drogba and beat Chelsea." Diao has known Drogba ever since their playing days in French football and added: "Every season he has improved and brought something new to his game. But Didi always had that desire. Definitely, he wants to win."
As do the rest of his team. "These guys play the game to win trophies and we want to win the FA Cup badly," said Ray Wilkins, the Chelsea assistant manager. If the positive crowd reaction to John Terry during England's win over Egypt is anything to go by, the furore of his off-field antics may be slowly subsiding. Wilkins added: "I thought he was excellent against Egypt and we have no qualms whatsoever. He's been in top, top form for us."