In a Monday night clash, Chelsea regained control of top spot in the Premier League defeating Stoke 2-0. John Terry opened the scoring before 2 minutes had elapsed and the Blues did not relinquish control of the match the rest of the night, doubling their lead through Cesc Fabregas later on. The London side is now three points clear of second place Manchester City with a Boxing Day match against West Ham coming up next.
With a win over Crystal Palace Manchester City had gone level on points with Chelsea at the summit of the Premier League, making this match against Stoke crucial for the Blues. Over recent weeks the London side’s inability to get wins over the more mediocre teams in England has given City the chance to gain ground in the title race.
The energy was palpable in the Britannia Stadium for the match against Chelsea but early on the visitor’s quieted the Potters fans with a goal only about 90 seconds in. A second minute corner from Fabregas found the head of a charging John Terry to open the scoring and make it an uphill battle for Stoke. The Blues kept up the pressure early on after the goal and dominated possession until about the 20-minute mark. Around that 20-minute mark a very hard tackle on Eden Hazard ignited the crowd and the tempers of both sides players. Phil Bardsley’s tackle on the winger was very rough and he was given a yellow to the dismay of both sides, Chelsea believed it could have been a sending off whereas Stoke believed the Belgian dove to try to get a red.
Before the Bardsley tackle the Stoke fans were incredibly loud but after they reached even another level. Their team responded accordingly and began to make a much stronger impression on the game pushing the pace and doing much better with their increasing possession. Their best chance of the first half came on a long-range effort that took a slight deflection that almost knocked it in, until Chelsea keeper Thibault Courtois made a late dive to push the shot wide by a very thin margin. Not long after that good chance for Stoke Chelsea created a good counter attacking chance of their own when Fabregas found a ton of space and put Diego Costa through on goal but his one on one chance with Stoke keeper Begovic nearly missed wide.
With a 1-0 lead coming out of halftime and very little attacking pressure from Stoke Chelsea looked willing and ready to sit back and protect their lead in the second half. The chances were coming few and far between for both sides until about the 70-minute mark when the Potters realized they could get something out of the match. Stoke began to put pressure on the Blues and dictate the game with some nice possession play but it led to very few chances.
Just when it seemed that Stoke were going to get an equalizer Chelsea put those hopes to rest with their second goal through Fabregas. Hazard found some space just beyond the box and whizzed a pass to the Spaniard in front of net, Fabregas did well to change direction with a nice first touch and then hit a slow shot that found the net. Fabregas seemed to have almost missed the shot completely because of how long it took for the shot to get into the goal, but in the end the speed of the shot does not matter and the Blues doubled their lead and never looked back.
A 2-0 win over Stoke was crucial for Chelsea not only because it allowed them to regain sole possession of the Premier League lead, but because it starts off a brutal stretch of matches with a win. Starting on Boxing Day the Blues will play 4 matches in 10 days including away ties against Tottenham and Southampton and any points they can get will be crucial.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius
Photo Courtesy of MudFlapDC – Creativecommons Flickr License