Mourinho shuffled the pack with PSG midweek in mind. The cup tied Matic and Salah replaced the suspended Ramires and Hazard. Schurrle was in for Oscar and Torres resumed as lone striker in the absence of the injured Eto’o. Stoke operated with the same formation as their hosts. Arnautovic, the in form Odemwingie and Palacios supported Crouch as the lone striker.
The contest began slowly and Stoke were comfortably holding their own. Prior to the opening goal Stoke actually had marginally more possession. Very little openings were created and there was a degree of tension amongst the home supporters after the previous two disappointing results. Stoke have definitely progressed from Pulis this season and the visitors’ initial reluctance to be dominated by Chelsea’s customary high pressure tactics was testament to this. The Potters knocked the ball around with ease but produced very little when they occasionally got the ball into the final third. On 31 minutes a quick throw from Azpilicueta down the left allowed Matic to power his way to the byline and cross low for Salah to smash the ball back across goal and into the net via goalkeeper Begovic’s leg. The relief was palatable and from that point onwards Chelsea looked more capable of producing the football that they are capable of. You always felt that one more gear would be too much for Stoke to handle and a cross from the right found Ivanovic. The serb headed home and wheeled off in celebration. Shortly after, the goal was ruled out and replays confirmed a very good call by the officials. The home side went into the break with a marginal but deserved lead.
Stoke came out for the second half in the knowledge that they had a very good chance of getting a result. Adam replaced the ineffective Palacios and Wilkinson came on at right-back for Cameron. It was clear Hughes wanted the Scot to be their second half focal point as he began to put himself about from the off. Not content with buckling Schurrle with his trademark ankle buster, he later proceeded to stick his studs in the chest of the Chelsea substitute that had to replace the injured winger. David Luiz, not one to shy away from confrontation himself, made sure that referee Lee Probert knew about it and ‘left one’ on Stoke’s Wilson shortly after. The Midlanders were steady again for the first 15 minutes of the second half before the arrival of Hazard. Within minutes he had slipped Schurrle in to be hacked down by Wilkinson inside the box and Lampard buried the penalty at the second attempt. As usual, everything Chelsea created from then on came through the Belgian and The Blues regularly had the ball in compromising positions. The substitution came at just the right time as the tempo increased and Stoke had their one decent opportunity. A tidy cross field through ball from N’Zonzi was poorly controlled by Arnautovic when clean through and Cech gathered easily.
Stoke lacked any real creativity so Chelsea’s two goal lead looked safe and any addition to the scoreline looked likely to come from Mourinho’s side. The impressive Salah sauntered through a couple of challenges before being bumped off the ball by Shawcross on the edge of the area. The equally impressive Willian was more successful with a similar run before standing the Stoke Captain up and curling gloriously into the far corner and beyond Begovic’s dive. The contest was over. Stoke replaced Crouch with Walters and Ashley Cole played on the left wing in place of Willian for the last 10 minutes or so.
Chelsea returned to the summit with the victory and kind of performance needed after a tough week on the road. The most pleasing thing for Jose will be that he used his squad and those that came in put on a real show. All eyes will be on the Bridge once again this week with the French champions in town for the Champions League Quater final second leg.