Chelsea left it late once again to seal a 2-1 victory over Stoke City – who opened the scoring in the first half. Last year’s counter fixture at Stamford Bridge saw a similar string of events as Frank Lampard scored a 92nd minute winner after Juliano Belletti drew the sides level on 88 minutes.
Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda were reintroduced to the line-up with Nicolas Anelka and the injured Deco making way. Branislav Ivanovic replaced Ricardo Carvalho in the centre of defence and John Obi Mikel was reinstated for Michael Essien as Carlo Ancelotti appears still undecided on his first choice defensive shield. Malouda and Kalou adopted central roles behind the powerful Dider Drogba as Ancelotti employed the Christmas tree formation which to date has proved successful. It was a decision this writer expected as Stoke City are far more comfortable dealing with strength as opposed to flair – a fact Ancelotti would have taken this into consideration when searching for players with the abilities to unlock a tight-knit Stoke side.
Despite a fast-paced start by the Blues they fell behind to a trademark headed goal from the Potters. Chelsea had the rub of the green in the early exchanges as Kalou and Malouda enjoyed long spells on the ball. Integral to the formation, Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa were also heavily involved down the flanks – although the pair delivered some wayward crosses in the first half. The visitors had a plan to prevent the notorious Rory Delap throw-in, however referee Mike Dean booked Kalou for heading the ball away when the Ivorian appeared at least the regulated two metres away from the taker.
Chelsea moved the ball quickly, attempting to catch their opponents off guard in the opening minutes, however it was stoke who struck first when a decent ball was headed home all too easily by an unmarked Abdoulaye Faye. As stated in the September 11 Club Focus , uncertainty by Petr Cech when dealing with balls in the box would most certainly go punished against the aerial prowess of Stoke. This was clearly demonstrated when the keeper – who has displayed on a number of occasions his concern to collect from a cross – pondered in no man’s land, allowing Faye’s tame header to loop over him. Eight minutes of injury time was awarded for the injuries suffered by James Beattie and Thomas Sorensen, much to the displeasure of Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who needed a reminder from assistant Peter Reid to calm his frustration. During this period of added time, Lampard carved a decisive ball into his striker. Perfection. Drogba did not need a touch; the in-form Blue allowed the ball to roll past him before crashing an effort – with his weaker foot – which Steve Simonsen and Sorenson together would have struggled to save as it flew into the top corner. Chelsea did struggle to effectively penetrate the Stoke defence after equalising, the home side sat deep, seemingly happy to add a point to their total. The Blues, however, required all three to keep the pressure on their rivals before they enter a tougher string of fixtures. Relentlessly, the Londoners probed but the side they faced this weekend were more disciplined and organised than previous opponents.
Chelsea remained patient, knowing that goals have been coming however late, and in Drogba, Anelka and a goal-scoring midfield duo of Lampard and Malouda, a goal was on the horizon. Patience did begin to deteriorate as erratic strikes became more common but persistence was ultimately to pay dividends. A 93rd minute winner arrived. Malouda was the difference – after a number of corners the natural winger stepped inside and lashed the ball past substitute ‘keeper Simonsen. The delight was clear, with Mourinho-esque scenes on the touchline.
The glory days the Portuguese provided are in the past, but Chelsea may well be looking forward to the ‘Carletto’ days – five wins from five is impressive, no matter the nature of the victories. The Blues remain firm favourites for the title as Pepe Reina described fellow contenders Liverpool’s chances as “unrealistic” and a struggling Arsenal side that appear to be missing ‘big names’ don’t seem to be carrying the experience nor quality of league winners. Therefore, Chelsea must overcome the double threat provided by Manchester this year as City answered critics this weekend by defeating a recognised top four side, and the menace of United is strong as ever – Ronaldo or no Ronaldo.
Chelsea Club Focus
Terry commits future to positive Blues set-up – July 29
Reading ask all the questions of Chelsea – August 5
Chelsea start as they mean to go on – August 12
Patience is a virtue – August 18
Christmas comes early for the Blues – August 21
Chelsea maintain 100% record – August 25
Blues to cruise over Burnley pot-hole – August 28
Cole-scoring prowess – September 1
Blues stunned by transfer ban – September 4
Ban dilemma for Blues – September 8
Blues look to bounce back from ban – September 11 Perfect start continues, just – September 15