Chelsea left it very, very late for the second time this season to snatch three points at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium yesterday afternoon. Having laid siege to the Stoke rearguard for the entire second half it took until the fourth minute of injury time for Chelsea to finally seal the victory when Florent Malouda fired home from the edge of the box. It had been the home side who struck first blood through an Abdoulaye Faye header, before Didier Drogba equalized in the lengthy period of added on time at the end of the first half. Malouda’s goal ensured Chelsea’s 100% start to the Premier League campaign remained intact.
Following the international break Carlo Ancelotti chose to rest Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Essien and Nicolas Anelka, saying he had Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Porto at the back of his mind. Branislav Ivanovic, Jon Mikel Obi and Salomon Kalou stepped in. Stoke included debutant Robert Huth in their line up, with Tony Pulis opting for a 5-3-2 formation. His plan appeared simple; stop Chelsea’s full backs and use the third centre back to limit Lampard’s time and space on the ball. Meanwhile striker Dave Kitson dropped back into the midfield to harass Mikel and cut off the Blues’ supply engine. For much of the game it worked and Chelsea were frustrated again and again. Indeed, it was Stoke who had the afternoon’s first chance following an awful mistake by Ivanovic. Seemingly caught in two minds the Serbian only succeeded in chesting a long punt forward into the path of James Beattie. The former Southampton hitman could only drag his first time shot wide, injuring himself in the process.
With challenges flying in from both sides the game almost had a Cup tie feel to it, as frantic passages of play were halted with a crunching challenge or a misplaced pass. Controversy soon followed as Chelsea prepared for the day’s first aerial bombardment from long throw specialist Rory Delap. In a clearly pre-meditated tactic Kalou stood a couple of meters away from Delap, who proceeded to throw the ball at the jumping Kalou. Referee Mike Dean was having none of it and promptly booked the Ivorian, sparking angry scenes amongst the away team, who rightly claimed that Kalou was a suitable distance from Delap. Moments later Ashley Cole was clattered by Ryan Shawcross after he released the ball and he too received a yellow card as events threatened to boil over.
The opening half an hour of scrappiness ended with the home side taking the lead. After Chelsea had initially cleared a corner, Glenn Whelan floated a cross towards goal, and with Ivanovic dithering and Petr Cech trapped in no man’s land Faye had the easy task of looping his header over the Czech keeper unchallenged. He duly obliged to send those in red and white into raptures, while the Blues defense looked at one another in shock and pondered how they had contrived to concede a goal from such a harmless cross.
After the goal Chelsea looked more nervous in possession as Stoke hounded them, buoyed by the lead they could defend and the magnificent home support. Every tackle or block was met with deafening cheers as it looked the Blues would struggle to restore
parity. Ashley Cole had Chelsea’s first attempt on target with a volley from a tight angle, but Thomas Sorensen saved comfortably. Moments later it was evident the Dane was in some discomfort and was replaced by Steve Simonsen, seeing his first Premiership action since last season. With eight minutes of stoppage time Chelsea finally sensed blood as Stoke began to hang on; a delightful reverse pass from Lampard released Drogba who blasted his left footed shot across Simonsen and into the top corner before the keeper could even blink.
After a fractious first half it was clear from the off how the second would pan out. Stoke’s only forays into the opposition half saw Kitson and Huth have headers go close, but it was simply one way traffic. Surge after surge of attack was met with a dead end as the Potters’ defense threw their bodies on the line continually. Huth, Shawcross and Faye were awesome with Lampard having at least half a dozen shots blocked. Such was their dominance Simonsen only had to make one real save in the second period, parrying a dipping Drogba free kick ten minutes from time. Anelka and Essien were brought on to try and reinvent Chelsea’s attack but it was Jose Bosingwa who was seeing most of the ball.
With five minutes of injury time Chelsea prepared themselves for one last push. Terry went up front and with Cole and Bosingwa effectively playing as second wingers it appeared that only Mikel and Ivanovic were not in the final third of the pitch. Late substitute Juliano Belletti, previously anonymous, let the ball run out of play for a throw and launched himself forward with so much force he fell over. The ball happily reached the 6 yard box but again Stoke cleared, this time to Essien, who fed Anelka inside the box. The Frenchman laid the ball back to his compatriot Malouda who took a touch inside before blasting the ball through a melee of bodies. For once there was no Stoke player in the way and Simonsen couldn’t get strong enough hands on the ball to prevent it nestling in the corner of the net. Chelsea’s travelling contingent erupted in delirious celebration with bodies flying everywhere while the players opted for a group hug with manager Ancelotti, himself visibly ecstatic with the goal. Whilst comparisons to Jose Mourinho’s title winning team may prove too early, Chelsea’s ability to fight with the toughest up north and snatch a late winner was extremely reminiscent of the Special One’s finest days in charge.
Stoke: Sorensen (Simonsen 41 ) , Huth, Faye, Collins, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Whelan, Delap, Whitehead, Kitson (Sanli 66), Beattie (Fuller 12)
Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, Terry, Ashley Cole, Ivanovic; Malouda, Lampard, Mikel (Belletti 83), Ballack (Essien 65); Drogba, Kalou (Anelka 64)
Bookings: Delap ,Shawcross ,Wilkinson (Stoke) Ashley Cole ,Kalou ,Terry (Chelsea)
Referee: M L Dean