MATA: REDUCING THE GAP

As Juan Mata prepares to step out at Stoke City for the first time tomorrow afternoon, our Spanish playmaker sees no reason why we can't become the first team to emerge from the Britannia Stadium this season with all three points.

The 24-year-old missed out on last season's corresponding fixture - a goalless draw on the opening day of the campaign - as the game came just over a week before he completed his switch from Valencia.

Since moving to England, however, he has come up against Tony Pulis' side on two occasions - both at Stamford Bridge - and he understands the potential difficulties we face as we return to league action following two successive cup ties.

'It's a very important game for us after losing to Queens Park Rangers, so we are looking forward to going there and hopefully getting a win,' he tells the official Chelsea website.

'It will be very difficult, Stoke are unbeaten at home this season, but we have the quality to get the three points.

'It's hard to feel comfortable playing at a ground like Stoke's because it's quite a small pitch. They always play in the same way; with big, strong players, but we will try to continue with our good run of form away from home.

'It's a good chance for us to reduce the gap on those teams ahead of us because of the other fixtures, and it could be a good weekend for us if we get through our own game successfully.'

The Capital One Cup defeat to Swansea City at Stamford Bridge in midweek, coming only a week after the QPR setback, was the fourth home match in six where we'd failed to find the back of the net.

Away from home, though, it's been a completely different story, with five successive wins, in which we've scored 16 goals.

Mata, who has been one of the standout performers of the season thus far, was at a loss to explain our contrasting fortunes, but with Southampton heading to west London three days after the Stoke game, acknowledged it needs to be rectified sooner rather than later.

'It's hard to understand the reasons for that, but it's a fact,' he says. 'We have been playing better away than we have been at home, and we have been picking up more points.

'Hopefully we can keep up our good form on the road but also improve at home, because if you want to be a successful team you have to be strong at your own stadium.

'We have always been good when we play at Stamford Bridge, it's important we get back to that, and I think we will.'

'When you are playing, you are only thinking about what's going on out on the pitch, so you can't really feel if the supporters are happy or not, but when you play at home, you have a feeling that the majority of fans are behind you, so that helps.'

There are still some tickets remaining for Wednesday's game against Southampton at Stamford Bridge which are now on general sale (maximum four per person).

Tickets for the match can be purchased from the Stamford Bridge box office, online or via the call centre on 0871 984 1905.