Chelsea return to the top
Published 05/04/2014 | 19:52
Chelsea recovered from their recent malaise to return to the top of the Barclays Premier League with a routine 3-0 victory over Stoke.
Jose Mourinho declared Chelsea's title challenge was over after last weekend's loss at Crystal Palace and, with the Blues' fate out of their own hands, winning the remaining six games was the target.
Liverpool, who play West Ham on Sunday, and Manchester City, 4-1 winners over Southampton earlier on Saturday, have games in-hand, but Chelsea sit atop the standings with five games to go after Mohamed Salah netted on his full debut.
Frank Lampard followed up to score after Asmir Begovic saved his penalty and Willian curled in a third in the Blues' 15th home win of the season.
It was the response Mourinho - now unbeaten in 77 home Premier League matches - had demanded, although the returning Fernando Torres had few chances of note.
Chelsea had lost three of their last five games - all the defeats away - following the Selhurst Park loss with a 3-1 Champions League quarter-final first-leg loss at Paris St Germain, when Mourinho selected a striker-less starting XI.
It seemed like the ideal time for Stoke - winners of three straight games and with one defeat in nine - to head to Stamford Bridge, a venue where they had not won in the league in 40 years.
But Chelsea's steeliness of old returned as the Blues recorded an eighth consecutive home clean sheet, continuing a run which began with the FA Cup defeat of Stoke in January.
Mourinho has long bemoaned Chelsea's lack of firepower, with their challenge built on a five-man defensive unit - Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and John Terry - who started as a combination for a 10th successive game.
With Tuesday's return at home to PSG in mind, Mourinho rested Eden Hazard and Oscar in a team showing four changes following the midweek loss in Paris.
Behind the recalled Torres and Salah were Nemanja Matic and Lampard, while Wilson Palacios came in for Stephen Ireland in the only change to the Stoke side which beat Hull 1-0 last weekend.
Mourinho was unhappy with the early attention shown to Torres by a TV cameraman, who stalked the striker in the minutes before kick-off.
Torres was then muscled off a Willian through ball by Ryan Shawcross and Marc Wilson and the striker then shot wide after Azpilicueta stole the ball near the edge of the visitors' box.
It was not all about Torres, though, as Salah shot straight at Begovic and Ivanovic, who joined the attack whenever he could, headed weakly from a Lampard corner.
A Willian shot deflected off Glenn Whelan and forced Begovic to turn the ball round the post for a corner and Ivanovic blasted wide with the outside of his right boot.
Stoke's meek response was Peter Odemwingie's ambitious effort, which was never going to trouble Cech from 35 yards.
Torres' instinct then gave him an opportunity as he nipped in to intercept a chested pass from Erik Pieters intended for Begovic, who spread himself to snuff out the danger.
Torres went down under the attentions of Geoff Cameron in the penalty area, but no sooner had referee Lee Probert waved play on than Chelsea were in front.
Azpilicueta found Matic with a throw-in and the Serb brushed off Odemwingie before drilling a pass back across the area for Salah to sweep in a shot which wrong-footed Begovic.
Salah, who scored his first Chelsea goal in the 6-0 defeat of Arsenal, mis-controlled a Willian pass as he tore through on goal as he spurned a chance.
Ivanovic was narrowly offside in heading past Begovic as Chelsea had a second chalked off.
Charlie Adam and Andy Wilkinson replaced Palacios and Cameron at half-time, with the Scot immediately throwing his weight around and catching Andre Schurrle on the foot.
The German made way for Hazard a few minutes later, with the Belgian having an immediate impact as his neat flick played in Salah, who was fouled by Wilkinson for a penalty.
Lampard's spot kick was well saved by Begovic, but the midfielder followed up to score.
Stoke had few forays forward, with Marko Arnautovic failing to bring down a lofted pass and the ball running out, before Chelsea netted a third.
Hazard fed Salah, who in turn found Willian.
With the Stoke defence backing off, the Brazilian brilliantly curled in from the edge of the box.
Adam caught Chelsea substitute David Luiz in the chest with his studs before Ashley Cole came on for his first appearance since the FA Cup defeat of Stoke and the Blues saw out victory.