Chelsea are three ominous points outside the relegation zone — and 13 from the top four — after a second loss in 11 days against Stoke.
The Blues, desperate to build on the hard-fought mid-week victory against Dynamo Kiev, had to do without their manager who was serving a stadium ban but, despite an improved performance, suffered the same fate as recent performances have gone.
It puts further scrutiny on Mourinho and Chelsea, who have become far too easy to play against, with an international break now for Mourinho, or potentially a new boss, to mull over what to do.
It was a first-half dominated by the visitors, with the Blues constantly knocking on the Stoke City door, as I am sure Jose Mourinho trying to do too. Rumours have it that Mourinho, serving his stadium ban, could be allowed to Skype call his players and assistants, but things were going off to a great start with Faria, Louro and Holland in charge.
Pedro, Matic and Baba Rahman were all in the starting side, with Mourinho accepting full responsibility for team line-up and substitutions. Hazard was too and had Chelsea’s early chance, lashing over from a tight angle with the ball bounce not favouring the out-of-form Belgian. Ramires then had a chance when Chelsea countered at great pace.
Stoke’s equivalent to our very own dimunitive maestro, Shaqiri, had the beating of Baba all day and his early over-head kick set alarm bells ringing for ex-Stoke goalkeeper Begovic.
The next big warning came from Glen Johnson, who swept in from the right and passed Zouma before his curling shot was destined for the bottom corner but for Begovic’s strong right hand.
In an end-to-end game, Ramires then had the opportunity to loop the ball over Butland but the Englishman did well to knock it over.
Hazard’s cross mid-way through the first half was inches away from Costa’s right toes but the Spaniard could not stretch large enough to tap it in.
Two minutes later Stoke had a great chance, again through Shaqiri. Stoke’s record signing beat Rahman — again — and Walters towered over Azpilicueta but thankfully his header was too high.
The half ended with two big Chelsea chances. A smart Willian corner to an unmarked Hazard on the edge of the box was a good move but there were too many bodies in the way for the daisy-cutter to make any real dent, whilst Costa’s low drive in the 40th minute after outstanding Chelsea play was matched with Butland’s outstretched leg.
With Hazard looking lively and Chelsea dominating possession by 66% to 34%, the second half really needed a chance to be converted to a goal.
One was — but for Stoke.
Rahman was caught ball-watching and torn apart when Shaqiri ran past him and his cut back eventually found Arnautovic who volleyed home expertly. There was trouble for Chelsea again.
Matric tried two from distance as the Blues looked to peg one back instantly. Pedro hit the woodwork but it was looking to be one of those days.
Fabregas and Oscar came on for Rahman and Pedro, with Ramires seemingly the make-shift full-back. This novel tactic was changed five minutes later when he himself came off for Remy, with Chelsea opting for a three-man defence.
They threw the kitchen sink at Stoke who would not budge. Hazard was so close to scoring but Johnson got a vital nick to deflect it past the far post, whilst Remy was far too honest when clean through. The Frenchman opted to try round Butland and score, but having been felled by the goalkeeper, Remy should have gone down. It would have been a penalty and red card, but Remy’s attempt in vain to score led to that potential passage being cut off. Anthony Taylor should have brought it back for the penalty, and no doubt Mourinho will have more to say on a referee he has previous with.
With such attack the defence was naturally vulnerable. Walters had a stunning chance when Matic lost the ball on his own by-line, whilst Arnautovic was far too greedy and had he passed to one of two team-mates it would have been game over.
Oscar shot straight at Butland in four minutes of injury time but it was not to be and Chelsea lose their tenth game in 18 matches this season.
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Man of the Match
EDEN HAZARD: If there was one positive, Chelsea’s huffing and puffing largely came through Hazard, who was much more involved in the game with touches, passes and chances. If he can get firing, Chelsea’s rot will end soon, but it may already be far too late for Mourinho or Chelsea’s Premier League campaign this season. 7/10
No Chelsea management was available for immediate comment.
Mark Hughes had sympathy for Mourinho: “I have had similar situations and sometimes you go under. Jose Mourinho has enormous credit at Chelsea, he has delivered trophies and surely people should cut him a little bit of slack.”