Adam magic can't halt Chelsea's title march
CHELSEA 2 STOKE CITY 1
There had already been an air of inevitability to Chelsea's pursuit of a first Premier League title in five years, but this latest success has served to reinforce that sense.
Even goals plundered from inside their opponents' half cannot stop Jose Mourinho's side these days, Charlie Adam's jaw-dropping strike from 65 yards rendered a mere footnote when it deserved a headline.
The leaders boast a seven-point advantage at the top and, even if that gap is trimmed this week, will still have a game in hand on the trio of clubs closest to them. They are ticking off the games, grinding out wins even as players start to wilt at the workload. The week ahead will determine the severity of the latest injury endured by Diego Costa, with his involvement over the remainder of the campaign surely in doubt after he limped off soon after his half-time introduction.
Chelsea started well but were missing Costa's combative presence and were beginning to get frustrated as the Stoke defence held firm, but the visitors obligingly self-destructed with the interval in sight. Eden Hazard's backheel and Willian's slide-rule pass liberated Cesc Fabregas, with Philipp Wollscheid sliding in as the Spaniard dragged the ball back. The penalty was not disputed and Hazard scored with ease.
That should have been the prelude for an all-out onslaught before half-time, yet Chelsea's rhythm was quickly interrupted by Adam's tussle with Fabregas - the Scot's arm connected clumsily with the bridge of his opponent's nose to leave him bloodied - and concentration duly wavered, even if the manner in which Stoke restored parity was still remarkable.
Stephen Ireland won the ball and found Adam, who ambled forward to the edge of the centre-circle, still inside his own half, before spying Thibaut Courtois off his line and pummelling a shot at goal from 65 yards. The stadium gasped in incredulity as the ball arced towards goal, the scrambling Belgian reaching it with his left hand but unable to paw it away. Adam has attempted such ridiculous shots often in the past, never successfully, and Chelsea were left dazed by the ludicrousness of it all, not least because everything Adam had previously tried here had fallen horribly flat.
Mourinho's response was to summon Costa from the bench only for the hosts' sense of shock to deepen when the striker pulled up within 11 minutes clutching the back of his left thigh.
Yet, if the onus will be on others to score the goals to see this team over the line, then there was an instant response. Stoke's second concession was another of their own making, Asmir Begovic ruining a fine display by under-arming the ball weakly towards Steven Nzonzi for Willian to intercept. Hazard scuttled into the area and squared for Loic Remy to tap into the gaping net.
Nzonzi struck the post from distance, though the better chances remained Chelsea's. Quite how substitute Juan Cuadrado contrived to strike Begovic with a point-blank shot from Hazard's cut-back, and then the rebound that followed, was mystifying, with Mourinho slumping across the advertising hoarding in his exasperation.
Ultimately, like Adam's goal, it did not count against the champions-elect.
Sunday Indo Sport