Hazard's spot of bother heaps more misery on Mourinho
Stoke City 1 Chelsea 1 (AET. Stoke win 5-4 on penalties)
Jose Mourinho's woes continued last night as his side went out of the Capital One Cup to Stoke on penalties.
Chelsea, a side all out of ideas and imagination, were heading out of the competition in normal time when substitute Loic Remy stepped out of the shadows to find a 90th minute equaliser which his team-mates had patently not deserved.
The justice of football is of no consequence of course, much though Mourinho has made such a focus of unfairness. The lifeline was seized without question as he carolled his team before extra-time with all the intensity of one whose employment prospects depended upon it.
As the game went into a penalty shoot-out, Remy - the disposable one - was left hoping that his goal might lift him from the Chelsea margins where Mourinho has dumped him. There were better places to be than this. In the sheeting rain of the Potteries, there seemed to be a metaphor for everything a manager doesn't want when he's searching for a break.
Mark Hughes hadn't exactly gone to the lengths Tony Pulis once extended to as he kept Mourinho at bay: deliberately ploughing up the centre of the Britannia Stadium pitch to make the going tough. But the thumping first half challenge on Kurt Zouma by Phil Bardsley - the wrong side of the legal line - telegraphed what the home side had in mind. Diego Costa was leaving for hospital by ambulance just before the second half had started. A bang in the hip from Charlie Adam. Welcome to Stoke.
Mourinho knew what he was up against and though there was a choreography of calm - chats with Stoke staff on the walk to the half-time dressing room - this was an individual who had been in no position to send out an understrength team, Cesc Fabregas the only notable exclusion. Oscar was recalled for his first start since early October in a strong Chelsea side.
Yet almost immediately, Chelsea looked like they going to stand up and be counted. There was ambition, intent, and no signals of a side who had given up on their manager. The full backs - Baba Rahman and Kurt Zouma were high - just like Chelsea's defensive line. Costa was testing Jack Butland only five minutes in, depositing the flicked backheel from Willian's low ball in from the right which and had the goalkeeper reacting well to save with his legs.
Eden Hazard deconstructed his tag as under-performer-in-chief, spinning away from Charlie Adam and surging up-field before feeding Costa in the inside left channel. The striker pulled the ball across goal from a tight angle and it deflected goalwards off Philipp Wollscheid, with Glenn Whelan making the block on the line.
Then Butland was into action again, saving smartly from 20 yards after a clever combination between Willian and Costa across the rain-slicked turf, presented Oscar with the chance. John Terry even had the ball into the net from a Willian cross, though he was comfortably offside.
It's a fixture which can do things to a Chelsea team, though, and which can provoke the players of Stoke into acts out of the ordinary. Like the Charlie Adam goal of the century, deposited from his own half, last April. Or Jon Walters' two own goals and missed penalty, in 2013. Walters looked like he was here to make amends for that.
He was sharp when he spun around onto Mame Biram Diouf's low cross and forced Asmir Begovic into his first save since. And quite exquisite in the execution when Whelan laid a ball in front of his feet and Cahill backed off, seven minutes into the second half. It was the rotating motion Walters enjoys, before he looped the ball goalwards and in off the bar, against the run of play, Stoke were ahead.
The same player looked ready to double the advantage when he took a ball which dropped over Zouma's head on his chest, and hit another effort just over the bar.
It can't be said, though, that Chelsea players were not fighting hard for their manager. There was energy, but little ingenuity. None of the clinical decision-making which lies behind their record of two defeats in 18 to Stoke before last night. Mourinho went for broke - throwing on the midfielder Kenedy for Rahman and going three at the back - but a shot from distance from Bertrand Traore going over, was all that tested a side growing in self-belief.
It was in the game's final minute that fate finally found in Mourinho's favour. It had been a defensive display of quality from the home side until Peter Odemwingie's dereliction of duty allowed Zouma's header from a corner to reach Remy unmarked, to scramble an equaliser.
A red card for Phil Bardsley followed to compound Stoke's misery but they survived extra-time and penalties, converting all five of their spot-kicks before Hazard missed the last, and decisive, one, Butland tipping his effort over the bar. (© Independent News Service)