Chelsea returned to the summit of the Premier League once again thanks to a convincing win against Stoke City.
A potential banana skin of a game, Mohamed Salah settled early Chelsea nerves, before an assured second half display was rewarded with goals from Frank Lampard and Willian.
It means the Blues, albeit “falsely” accordingly to Jose Mourinho due to rival teams having matches in hand which would see Chelsea fall places again, return to first place, albeit for maybe only 24 hours.
Regardless of the league position, it must have been relieving for Chelsea to end this difficult week with a win. Last week’s clanger at Crystal Palace, coupled with the mid-week disappointment in Paris has seen Mourinho criticised in a few circles as the test really is on the Londoners.
But they responded in fantastic style against a side who beat them in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.
Effective Stoke organisation in the opening half-hour thwarted Chelsea but that all changed in the 32nd minute. From an innocuous-looking throw-in, Nemanja Matic found himself at the by-line, and using his imposing physique, managed to square the ball back to Mohamed Salah, waiting in acres of space in the middle of the penalty area. The 21-year-old still had a lot to do — the ball arrived at him at pace — but, on his favoured left-foot, slotted home expertly to record his second league goal after rounding off the 6-0 demolition of Arsenal last month.
Huge periods of keep-ball ensued and, for a period, it looked as if Chelsea were intent on holding out for the 1-0 win. Certainly with the line-up omitting Oscar and Hazard, one would have been excused for thinking Mourinho had other matches in mind.
But with the latter introduced in the second half, the Chelsea performance was raised a gear. It was Hazard and Salah who worked effectively to draw a penalty out of Wilkinson and Lampard, though missing the initial effort, was thankful the ricochet fell kindly at his feet for the rebound.
Willian, who had been so influential in the match rounded off his display with a phenomenal goal, taking on his man before quickly side-stepping away from the defenders. In that split-second, he had worked himself a shooting opportunity and zipped it past Begovic expertly, to settle the match and the points.
Man of the Match
MOHAMED SALAH: Constantly buzzed around the pitch. The Egyptian has been told that his time will come next season and that he must adjust to life in England for now, and though he no Hazard just yet, his energy and pace was vital for a match like this. Gave Stoke all sorts of problems and popped up with an exceptionally well-taken goal as Matic’s assist came at speed. 8/10
Mourinho was delighted his players reacted to the week’s set-backs: “I think the players played well. Normally after a defeat you don’t start confidently but this team today went upwards all the time. The team played well and we were solid defensively. That was only possible with the contribution of every player.”
Mark Hughes was less impressed with his set of players: “We didn’t have enough players at their maximum today. We weren’t able to ask enough questions of a good Chelsea team. They carry a strong squad and the players that come in and come off the bench are of a high quality.”