Saturday 25 November 2017

Mesmeric Chelsea pile on the points

Chelsea 2Stoke City 0

Chelsea got real at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Twelve goals in their first two league games and 21 in their last three home matches had encouraged many to believe that Stoke would be humiliated as they had been on their last visit to west London.

Instead, Chelsea only scored twice and Frank Lampard missed a penalty, which the team just shrugged off. Stoke didn't lose 7-0 again but Chelsea won easily and, in the absence of flair and goals, relied on the power and personality of their team.

"I am happy when we play at our best. Today we were not at our best," Carlo Ancelotti said afterwards. "There was no tempo to our play. The first half was good but the second was more difficult."

Perhaps if Glenn Whelan had scored with a shot that shook the crossbar at 1-0, Chelsea might have been startled. But the shock wouldn't have lasted, not with Chelsea as sure of themselves as they are at the moment. Stoke's future is more uncertain as they go into the international break without a point. "We've played quite well this season, we had our moments today, although Chelsea had a hell of a lot more," Tony Pulis said.

Stoke have other fires to put out. Pulis confirmed that the club have written to Arsenal objecting to Arsene Wenger's comments on Friday about Ryan Shawcross. Wenger accused Shawcross, who broke the leg of Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey last season, of using rugby tactics on goalkeepers.

"It's totally out of order," Pulis said, before confirming that the club would accept the right offer for Ireland's Liam Lawrence. But they hope to keep Asmir Begovic, despite his strike last week, which Pulis said was caused by "faceless people". In the first half, Chelsea's football was mesmeric. Stoke had a back five of man-mountains but Chelsea have never been afraid of a fight. At the moment, they have no need to go looking for trouble.

Chelsea seemed to have been knocking the ball around for most of the opening four minutes when Michael Essien changed the emphasis. Ashley Cole had got forward on the left and Essien's ball found the space in the five-man defence, which might have been intimidating but wasn't agile.

Cole was too quick for them but he shot across the goal. Chelsea felt they would just have to wait.

Chelsea decided to take some decisive action after a couple of Stoke advances.

Jonathan Walters, a potential Irish recruit, was watched by Marco Tardelli, and lobbed Petr Cech only for the ball to land on top of the net, while Dean Whitehead had a shot saved by Cech.

Chelsea's response was swift. Lampard played the ball down the inside left channel, Florent Malouda burst through and Shawcross took him down for a penalty. Lampard strode forward purposefully but his penalty was weak and Thomas Sorensen saved easily, making it four he has stopped of the last five he has faced -- Lampard has missed his last three.

This wasn't part of the deal and Drogba took out Chelsea frustration with a vicious free-kick from 30 yards that Sorensen wouldn't risk catching so he punched it back out into the goalmouth.

Chelsea may be pleasing to watch under Ancelotti but they remain a team of remarkable personality as the opening goal once again demonstrated.

Kenwyne Jones had been complaining about an injury for some time but Stoke's bench sent him back onto the field. As the ball came to him on the halfway line, his touch was bad and John Terry challenged strongly. Jones looked for a free but he wasn't going to get it. Terry was already moving into Stoke's half and this time his pass got behind the Stoke defence too easily. Malouda anticipated it and finished well.

Cole nearly had a magnificent goal after half an hour when Drogba picked out one of his devastating runs. As the ball dropped over his shoulder, Cole volleyed it but it bounced back off the bar.

The second half, as Ancelotti admitted, was more of a slog but Drogba could have made things easier instead of heading at Sorensen from six yards.

Whelan took a few minutes to get into things, knocking one pass straight into touch but his dipping shot from 25-yards that bounced off the crossbar -- before Terry chested it back to his goalkeeper -- was Stoke's best moment.

Chelsea reacted and displayed another threat. With 15 minutes to go, Drogba picked out Anelka and played the ball in front of him. Sorensen thought he could get to the ball first but Anelka picked up speed, flicked it by him and was tripped by the 'keeper.

Lampard had been taken off, and will have surgery on a hernia this week ruling him out of England's squad. Ancelotti said Lampard would have taken the penalty if he had been on the field but Drogba would surely have argued. As it was, nobody could challenge him as he smashed the penalty past Sorensen.

Chelsea had the three points but not six goals. It felt like an anti-climax. Maybe they've peaked too soon, but it doesn't look like it.

Sunday Independent

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