Guus Hiddink claims Bertrand Traore has earned his chance to lead the Chelsea attack leaving a huge question mark over the future of Alexandre Pato.
Diego Costa was missing from the side which drew 1-1 with Stoke to rest a minor tendon injury but is expected to be fit for the Champions League crunch against Paris St-Germain on Wednesday.
French striker Loic Remy was surprisingly left on the bench in favour of Traore against the Potters, while loanee Pato has still not featured since arriving on loan for the rest of the season from Corinthians in January.
And the 20-year-old Traore, who is clearly ahead of Pato in the pecking order, grabbed his chance on only his second Blues start by firing in a memorable goal from 20 yards.
— Muhammad Hussain (@hussainyyyy) March 5, 2016
“You see in parts of the game that he has quality,” said Hiddink.
“He has shown that already when he has come on.
“It’s a little bit different when you start at Stamford Bridge from the beginning.
“You can see he has quality but young players have to try to control and dominate their nerves and you could see that at the beginning.
“But he showed with the goal that he has the capacity to do a lot.
“The strikers compete amongst themselves in a healthy way. If they show what they do in training then it will be rewarded.”
Pato, who made the bench in the midweek win at Norwich, was among the unused subs again as Hiddink opted to replace Eden Hazard and Traore with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Loic Remy instead, despite claiming on Friday that Pato was ready to be unleashed.
Traore’s 39th-minute strike appeared to have put Chelsea on their way to a fourth successive win, but Mame Biram Diouf snatched a draw for Stoke five minutes from time.
A point was the least City deserved, however, with Giannelli Imbula a hugely impressive figure in their midfield.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes feels there is plenty more to come from the 23-year-old, who joined for a club record £18.3million from Porto on deadline day.
“He drives with the ball, technically he’s very good, very comfortable in possession and when he gets in his stride he leaves people in his wake,” said Hughes.
“We’ve got a really good acquisition and we are really pleased with what he has produced in only a short space of time – he’s only been with us three or four weeks – and he continues to impress every day in training.
“There is more to come, he’s only 23 and will have games where he is not quite up to speed in terms of understanding the Premier League, but once he figures it out he is going to be an outstanding player for us.”