Chelsea show potential title-winning steel against Stoke City
The omens are good for Chelsea, who are now even shorter odds-on at 4/9 to lift the Premier League, after grinding out a vital victory against Stoke City.
A visit to the Britannia Stadium is often one of the toughest away fixtures on any team with title aspirations, but the Blues sidestepped a potential stumbling block with aplomb here.
Jose Mourinho’s men had succumbed on this hostile stage last season, slipping to a 3-2 defeat. However, Chelsea returned much tougher this time and were in no mood to be bullied, ensuring they got off to a flying start.
Just two minutes in, evergreen skipper John Terry played the Potters at their own set piece game, taking advantage of Peter Crouch’s ball-watching to head home an important early opener.
The Blues’ courageous captain continues to show England what they are missing since his international retirement, with Terry inspirational at the back, after netting his third goal of the campaign.
Mark Hughes’ side have already shown they still are capable of causing trouble for top teams this term, after humbling Arsenal at the Emirates. So Mourinho took no chances, shoring up midfield by sacrificing Oscar for John Obi Mikel.
There is never any doubt that a side led by the ‘Special One’ is capable of squeezing out a win, but Chelsea had recently stuttered against Tyne and Wear rivals Sunderland and Newcastle United, giving this fixture an extra layer of importance.
Stoke may have been stunned by the opener, but quickly returned to their plan to stifle and frustrate. Phil Bardsley’s rash and panic-stricken lunge on Eden Hazard sent the Belgian sensation tumbling, and set the tone for a scrappy and physical first-half.
Scotland defender Bardsley escaped an early bath, and Hughes’ hosts continued to impose themselves on the visiting Blues at a succession of feisty set pieces.
As clearly combative as Stoke were, they could not find a way past Chelsea’s resolute rearguard. Bojan Krkic showed glimpses, fizzing a shot wide, but struggled to influence the game.
This was mainly due to the determination of Nemanja Matic, who once again delivered a masterclass in shielding the defence. One perfectly-timed tackle, in particular, resulted in Diego Costa having a clear run on goal, but it was a bad day at the office for the Brazilian-born Spain star and he fired wide.
Hazard and Cesc Fabregas continued to prove they are not just fair weather players, with the brilliant Belgium international;s fantastic footwork creating an opportunity for the Spaniard, who had already provided the assist for the opener, to slot home a second for Mourinho’s men.
The hosts’ shining star, meanwhile, was once again Ryan Shawcross, who continues to make a pressing case to add to a token Three Lions cap. Stoke’s skipper was solid and authoritative throughout, crucially keeping Blues striker Costa from making an impact up front.
While the Potters can be proud of their tenacity, this clash may convince them to dip into the January sale in search of further guile to support Bojan.
Meanwhile, Mourinho may be irked at Stoke’s stubbornness and testy tackles, but the Stamford Bridge side should be buoyed by their flair players’ ability to give as good as they get.
Chelsea, 7/1 to win the Champions League, can continue their title tilt over Christmas, content they have retained the number one spot.