Chelsea tightened their grip on the Premier League crown with a comfortable 2-1 victory against Stoke.
The Blues, whose stars have just returned from an international break, had been set a target of six wins, one draw and two defeats by their manager. With one ticked off, thanks to goals from Hazard and Remy, it means all Chelsea need is five more wins.
It was Chelsea at its blistering best at the start of the game. Having had an international break, the players were ready and eager to get back into club football, dominating possession and dominating chances.
Remy was given a starting spot and his deflected shot in the opening minutes nearly caught Begovic out, who was to have a fine first half.
Eden Hazard and Willian were running the show from various crosses and corners and the Belgian was delightful in cutting inside on his right foot. His shot could not match. We would see later on him do exactly the same from the other side on his left foot, but Begovic was on hand to save his tame effort.
When Stoke did have the odd chance, it was more than enough to strike fear into Chelsea fans that this was not going to be at the training ground intensity that the game started with. Matic was too casual to clear to Nzonzi, whose aim for the top corner just evaded him.
Oscar should have scored when set up by Hazard moments later but the Brazilian’s startling decline in form would infuriate Mourinho, who was visibly livid at the miss and would hook Oscar off at half-time.
Hazard, meanwhile, took matters into his own hands. Fabregas won a clear penalty and the Belgian — goodness knows how he does it — rolled so casually into the middle of the goal.
That did not last long. Courtois was somehow a good 30 yards off his line and when Charlie Adam unleashed a shot from just before the half-way line, you feared the worst. Courtois, for all his height, could not judge the ball nor run quick enough and Stoke had an undeserved, but definitely spectacular, equaliser.
On came Costa straight away, who Mourinho described pre-match as a “gamble [but] if we have to do it, we will do it”. Do it he did, and within ten minutes he would regret that decision. The Spaniard looked like he exacerbated the hamstring issue and will be out for a good few weeks.
Good job there’s Remy, eh? And, in particular, Eden Hazard. Though the eventual winner by Chelsea would be thanks to a huge slice of luck. Begovic was ill-advised to roll the ball out from a goal-kick, and Willian pounced, feeding Hazard. The Belgian was one-on-one but, in typical unselfish fashion, squared the ball to Remy to tap in.
For a player with such ambition to hit the goalscoring heights of the Ronaldos and Messis, it is incredibly heart-warming to see him pass up these good opportunities for the same of his team, and Remy was on hand to tap in.
Chelsea had to sit and hang on to a lead, something they have not been very good at doing of late. But Stoke offered little going forward, even when Crouch came on and Stoke adopted a long-ball game. Courtois took his time with goal-kicks, Cuadrado should have scored a third but the two were enough and it remains advantage Chelsea.
Man of the Match
EDEN HAZARD: This guy runs the show. There have been talks about Hazard running out of steam as we enter the latter stages of the season, but there just isn’t a such thing for the young Belgian. His pace is as sharp as ever, as is his ability. In a moment of Chelsea defensive frailties, it is vital the attacking do their business and just outscore the opponent. Hazard has this ability, breaking the deadlock today and assisting in the winner. Chelsea’s main man. 9/10
Mourinho was delighted: “A performance that deserved three points but the reality is that we played against a very good defensive team who defended well. We know we have eight matches and we need five victories and a draw.”
Hughes was refusing the criticise two individual errors: “In the second half we were under great pressure and unfortunately Asmir made a bad decision and they got the second goal. We lost to a penalty and a mistake in distribution but I’m not going to criticise either of the guys. We just have to pick ourselves up and go again.”