It was hardly a contest, more of a mismatch. We controlled proceedings with ease and cruised to a crucial victory which restored the Blues to the Premier League summit. Petr Cech was deprived of a save to make for 90 minutes. Sterner challenges await, for Cech too, but it was still a gratifying victory, crowned with goals from Mohamed Salah, Frank Lampard and a beauty from Willian.
We began with purpose. Willian, who was highly effective in the central role, attempted a through-ball into Fernando Torres but the Spaniard was unable to reach the ball. Torres drove just wide, Salah’s tame effort was easily thwarted by Asmir Begovic before the Bosnian keeper acrobatically pushed away Willian’s strike.
Mourinho had seemingly, and successfully, galvanised his players with his public criticism of them. At times, they were rushing a few passes but our lively start was a welcome boost after two damaging, error-prone, defeats.
Stoke were successfully absorbing our pressure, Begovic in particular. He gathered Lampard’s low effort before calling upon his reactive instincts to stifle Torres’s close-range effort after Erik Pieters’s lazy attempt at a chest back. Stoke held firm for half-an-hour but their resistance was broken two minutes later.
After repeated efforts at breaking down an organised Stoke defence through expansive play, it was clear we would have to force proceedings – and that’s exactly what Nemanja Matic did. The Serb drove down the right flank, strongly holding off the challenge of Geoff Cameron, and pulled-back superbly for Salah, with the aid of Begovic’s right leg, to drive home our opener. The relief around Stamford Bridge was palpable.
The Egyptian was enjoying an excellent full debut, given the nod after five substitute appearances since his January move from Basel. The 21 year-old was again through on goal minutes later but only for his touch to fail him at the critical moment.
Stoke were lacking ambition and full of unnecessary caution, given their comfortable position in the league table and the current score-line. Branislav Ivanovic guided his header beyond Begovic but was correctly adjudged offside on the stroke of half-time by the eagle-eyed linesman – Southampton would have fully appreciated his services earlier in the day (Silva offside).
Andre Schurrle, after constantly troubling Cameron, departed after 58 minutes – as he did in Paris – to a warm round of applause as the home support duly appreciated his outstanding work ethic and welcomed the arrival of Eden Hazard. Schurrle may have been subject to criticism on Wednesday, but he is a winger and not a number 9 striker as he proved at Old Trafford and in mid-week.
Hazard’s impact was instant. As Salah skipped past half-hearted challenges, he stroked the ball into Hazard who repaid him with a beautifully-weighted back-heel. Salah was on his toes and dabbed at the ball before Andy Wilkinson ploughed into him, rightfully conceding a penalty. Lampard’s poor spot-kick was thwarted but the England midfielder would not be denied his 250th club goal and his 211th for Chelsea as he reacted first to fire the ball into the net.
Salah was again involved in a goal, but Willian assumed the most significant role. Salah rolled the ball into his Brazilian colleague, who delivered a fantastic curling effort beyond the despairing reach of Begovic and nestling in the net. 3-0.
There was even a late appearance for the heavily-bearded Ashley Cole, brought in on the left flank at Willian’s expense. The sight of the full-back roaming down the left again in Chelsea blue was delightful, but Azpilicueta proved yet again his worth for the left-back role, performing excellently.
Man of the Match – Willian
Willian excelled on an afternoon in which he rightly received the Man of the Match award. He played in the centre of the attacking three behind Torres, a role unfamiliar to him but he delivered emphatically.
He was energetic throughout, driving the side forward, sparking offensive passages of play. His brilliant goal capped off a good afternoon for the 25 year-old.
Salah impresses on full debut
Salah was not the only architect in this victory but played a pivotal role, beaten to the Man of the Match award by the terrific Willian but yet, he was worthy of such a compliment.
His goal was only one element of an impressive individual display. He wreaked havoc in the Stoke defence, earning a penalty and assisting Willian for his goal. He was a constant threat with his forays into the box as he put his pace to effective use.
He, along with others, staked a claim for a starting place against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday evening.
Main man Matic
In Paris we felt the full force of Matic’s ineligibility, lacking any composure in central midfield.
His performance was, as usual, assured. He crafted Salah’s goal and was generally a reliable guard in front of our solid back-four.
He will inevitably be missed again on Tuesday.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech 6; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 7, Terry 6, Azpilicueta 6; Matic 7, Lampard 6 (Luiz 70); Salah 7, Willian 8 (Cole 78), Schurrle 6 (Hazard 59); Torres 5.
Subs: Oscar, Ba, Schwarzer, Kalas.
Stoke (4-2-3-1): Begovic 6, Pieters 5, Wilson 4, Shawcross 6, Cameron 4 (Wilkinson 45); Whelan 5, Palacios 4 (Adam 45); Arnautovic 5, Nzonzi 5, Odemwingie 3; Crouch 4 (Walters 78).
Subs: Munesia, Guidetti, Etherington, Sorenson.