Chelsea returned to the bread and butter of the Premier League against Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium. With a Champions League game against Atletico Madrid on the horizon, Conte opted to rotate the squad yet again, which meant Hazard, Fabregas and Cahill found themselves on the bench. Michy Batshuayi, fresh from scoring a hat-trick in midweek and calling out EA Sports on Twitter, also took up his usual spot amongst the subs.
Here are the talking points from a thumping 4-0 victory.
#1 The Striking Situation
Much has been said and written about the Diego Costa transfer saga and this week, the brawler from Brazil finally got his move back to his adopted country. Several pundits shook their heads, tut-tutted and proclaimed it would come back to bite Chelsea in the arse. With one striker scoring a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest and the other hitting a treble against Stoke City, it just might be the case that the highly-paid and well-qualified folks at Chelsea Football Club do know what they’re doing. Morata’s hat-trick, scored with his feet, no less, should be enough to silence the doubters for a very long time. The man who has now scored 17 goals in his last 19 games for club and country, just might be capable enough to fill Costa’s admittedly big boots.
#2 The Defenders
Despite sustained pressure from Stoke, Courtiois did not have a save to make in the first half. A lot of it was down to the defensive wall ahead of him. Christensen displayed maturity well beyond his years while Azpilicueta was his ever-reliable self, whether playing as a centre back or as a wing back later in the second half. Rudiger also turned in an assured performance, which meant David Luiz wasn’t really missed. Most of Stoke’s attempts on goal resulted from the defence intercepting the attack, then fluffing their lines in trying to clear it, but getting back in shape before it caused any real damage.
#3 Alonso All At Sea
Marcos Alonso has made the left wing back slot his own since coming on against Arsenal at The Emirates last season. But this was his worst performance in a Chelsea shirt, by far. He was frequently caught out by the Stoke wingers, missed a lot of tackles and did not seem to have his head in the game. His reaction to an opponent’s arm brushing against his face verged on embarrassing, and he was deservedly booked (not for the play-acting) soon after. Moments later, he almost got himself sent off for a second bookable offence, but somehow escaped with a telling-off from the referee. Conte realised the danger and hauled him off shortly thereafter. A night to forget for the dreamy-haired one.
#4 The Game Changers
With Stoke turning the screws and Chelsea losing control in midfield, Conte first brought on Fabregas and then Hazard to regain their lost momentum. The changes had the desired effect, with Fabregas especially influential. The Spaniard combined well with Hazard and the outstanding Morata to create a flurry of chances in quick succession, which knocked the wind out of the home side’s sails. Two quick goals from Morata ended the contest, although he could have added two more to his tally if he’d finished a couple more chances.
#5 Peter Ouch
Mark Hughes ripped up his original plan and brought on Peter Crouch for the ineffectual Jese late in the second half. Apart from his trademark ‘win a header to create a goal-scoring opportunity for a teammate’ act, the veteran Englishman’s other contribution was to leave his stud-marks on Fabregas’ leg. It was a dangerous tackle, with Crouch’s foot raised and studs showing, but he only received a yellow for his indiscretion. Keen observers would have noticed this tackle was not too different from the kind that got David Luiz and Cahill sent off, not too long ago. Premier League refereeing, inconsistency be thy name.
Three points in the bag and just three points off the top is a good place to be at this stage of the season. Chelsea now travel to Madrid to take on Diego Costa’s new club in the Champions League, at their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium. Too bad, Diego will have to look on from the stands.