The goal of the season may have been scored in a losing effort for Stoke as Charlie Adam found the net from nearly 65 yards out. It was not enough though as Chelsea held on to beat a pesky Stoke team by a score of 2-1 with goals from Hazard and Remy that canceled out Adam’s stunner.
Chelsea have not been in the best of form as of late with their early exit from the Champions League at the hands of PSG, but the latest international might have come at just the right time to rejuvenate the English leaders. A match against mid-table Stoke is crucial for the Blues as their title rivals are gaining points on them, not just Man City but also Man United and Arsenal.
Chelsea started the match with a clear sense of urgency in attack looking to get on the score sheet early in the match. A handful of half chances came and went for the Blues but the final pass was lacking in the first 25 or so minutes. Stoke did very little to create for themselves at all but in defense they were very solid and kept the Chelsea attackers in front of them very well. The first real good chance for the home side was created by some great movement and passing in the box from Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard to set up Oscar in a great shooting position, but the Brazilian missed wide right on his less favored left foot.
The consistent attacking pressure from Chelsea finally broke down the stout Stoke defense late in the first half when Fabregas pulled the ball back to change direction deep in the box and was caught from behind by the Phillip Wollscheid earning a penalty. Hazard calmly took the penalty forcing Begovic to dive in the wrong direction putting the Blues on top 1-0. It seemed that Chelsea were going to take that one goal lead into halftime until a bit of magic from Charlie Adam changed the match completely in the 44th minute. Adam saw that Chelsea keeper Thibault Courtois far off his line and took an ambitious shot from nearly 65 yards out and scored the goal of the season. The extreme long-range effort shocked the Stamford Bridge fans and changed the landscape of the match dramatically sending the teams into halftime level.
The energy and sense of urgency was the same for Chelsea to open the second half, as it was when they opened the first. This dominance in possession and willingness to attack again did not create a ton of clear-cut chances, again very reminiscent of the first half. Stoke’s back line continued to defend very well and keep the Blues attackers from getting that final decisive pass to open the scoring opportunities. That was until Asmir Begovic, the Stoke keeper, made a crucial mistake and threw it out right to the Chelsea attack. Hazard took it right into the box nearly uncontested and unselfishly passed up an easy scoring opportunity to set up Loic Remy for an even easier opportunity to make the match 2-1.
After taking the lead Chelsea continued to attack and dominate possession but looked a lot more vulnerable at the back as Stoke began to gain more confidence moving forward. Steven N’Zonzi nearly leveled the score not long after the Blues went ahead when his effort had Courtois beat but found the post. Stoke continued to put the home side on their heels and it seemed an equalizer was coming for a good stretch around the 70-minute mark, but the equalizer never came and Chelsea held on to win 2-1.
Although it was a crucial victory for Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has to be concerned at how they can be held to so few real chances even with their dominance of the ball and the attacking talent they possess. Eden Hazard has to be frustrated at times with his attack mates at how hard he works to free them up and get them into good areas, but how often they squander the chances he creates. Hazard is likely to win the Premier player of the year and he deserves it but he needs players like Oscar and Willian to rise to his level because he is currently the only real offense Chelsea has.
On a day when both Arsenal and Manchester United got big wins this victory was very important for the title leaders Chelsea. They now have 70 points and are 7 points clear with a game in hand of second place Arsenal. Manchester City are still lurking though as they will play Crystal Palace on Monday and if they win will be just six points behind the Blues. Their early exits from both the FA Cup and Champions League may be an advantage as Chelsea look to close out the season with their Premier League lead in tact. Those early exits will give the players much more time to rest and prepare for each and every one of their last eight Premier League matches.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius
Photo Courtesy of cfcunofficial – Creativecommons Flickr License