Saturday 30th December, Stamford Bridge – It was the final matchday of 2017 for both Chelsea and Stoke City, and the second meeting this season between the clubs. Chelsea won the first leg at Bet365 pretty comfortably, courtesy of a goal from Pedro, and Alvaro Morata’s first ever premier league hat trick.
Stoke City had won and drawn their last two games against West Brom and Huddersfield Town respectively – despite that, Chelsea were favourites to win today, and at least temporarily move up into second place in the league, two points ahead of Manchester United.
Mark Hughes’ side were doing their best to cope with major defensive absences – Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi and Glen Johnson were all injured, and loan center back Kurt Zouma could not feature against his parent club.
Kevin Wimmer and Geoff Cameron started in central defence with teenagers Josh Tymon and Tom Edwards in the full back positions. Charlie Adam and Darren Fletcher were in midfield, and Saido Berahino rotated in for Peter Crouch as the visitors’ sole striker.
Andreas Christensen had recovered from an illness for Chelsea, and was on the bench for today’s game. Charly Musonda was still out with a groin problem, but David Luiz was close to returning from his knee injury.
Eden Hazard, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas were on the bench alongside Christensen, resting for the away game v Arsenal Wednesday night.
N’golo Kante and Daniel Drinkwater were in the middle of Chelsea’s 3-4-3, and Willian and Pedro started either side of Alvaro Morata in attack.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Courtois 8, Moses 8 (Zappacosta 8), Rudiger 8.5, Cahill 7, Azpilicueta 7.5, Alonso 7, Kante 8 (Bakayoko 6), Drinkwater 8.5, Willian 8.5, Pedro 8, Morata 7 (Batshuayi 7)
Subs Caballero, Christensen, Zappacosta, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Hazard, Batshuayi
Butland 4, Tymon 4.5, Cameron 5.5, Wimmer 5.5, Edwards 4.5, Sobhi 6.5, Adam 6.5 (Choupo-Moting 5.5), Fletcher 5, Diouf 6.5, Afellay 5.5 (Ngoy 5), Berahino 7
Subs Grant, Souttar, Allen, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Ngoy, Crouch
Before the game, a lot was made of the fact that Stoke City had the league’s worst defensive record, with forty-one goals conceded in just twenty games. And for their part Chelsea have shown this season that when their opponents have obvious weaknesses, they can flat track bully with the best of them.
Serious defensive frailties… attacking quality… there was only going to be one outcome. Chelsea opened the scoring just two minutes into the game.
Ramadan Sobhi brought down Victor Moses on the right wing and Willian stepped up to take the free kick. At first it looked like Willian had hit his cross too high, but it was perfectly placed for Antonio Rudiger, who rose above the Stoke defence and powered a header past a frozen Jack Butland for 1 – 0. There were three defenders close by, but not one of them bothered to jump with Rudiger and contest the header.
World Class Goal
Six minutes later, Chelsea scored again – this time Pedro made a cross from left wing to Danny Drinkwater just outside the box. Darren Fletcher rushed out to close Drinkwater down but couldn’t reach him quick enough.
He took a touch with his knee to stabilize the ball, then unleashed a world-class volley into the top corner with the outside of his right foot – his first Chelsea PL goal 2 – 0.
Same as with the earlier goal, the keeper didn’t attempt the save. There were rumors during the week that Chelsea had taken an interest in Jack Butland. If this was his audition though, it wasn’t a good one.
It’s All About The First Touch
Stoke almost held out a full fifteen minutes before conceding another goal. First Morata almost scored when Willian put him in with a through pass, but this time Butland was awake and blocked the shot.
Chelsea had another fast-break opportunity – this time Pedro and Morata exchanged passes just outside the box before Pedro took the shot, but it was straight at the keeper and he held it.
Then in another move, Morata drew his marker out of the way to give Willian a chance on the edge of the box. Willian tried dribbling to make more space, but other defenders had him covered. He passed right-wards to Pedro, whose first touch took him past Tymon, before hooking the ball across the keeper and into the opposite corner of goal for 3 – 0.
Great Hold Up Play
Willian tried a couple of shots himself but Butland saved them. Mame Biram Diouf got past Marcos Alonso and actually put the ball in the net for Stoke, but the goal was correctly disallowed because he controlled the ball with his arm in the build-up to his shot.
In the second half Stoke had their best opportunity (as well as their one shot on target) of the game: Charlie Adam slipped in a through ball for Saido Berahino to set up a fast-break. Gary Cahill was never going to beat Berahino for pace, and the young striker wound up one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois. He tried to curl it past the keeper, but Courtois read his intentions and made a fantastic reaction save to block the shot.
And then eighteen minutes into the second half, Azpilicueta passed the ball to Willian in midfield, and he back heeled it up to Michy Batshuayi, who’d replaced Morata by that time. Michy showed good strength to hold off his defender, then hooked the ball through for Willian.
Tymon and Cameron combined to get the ball off Willian in the box, but he managed to steal it back from Cameron, then tripped over his trailing leg, and the referee pointed to the spot. With Hazard off the pitch Willian took the penalty himself, putting it past the despairing Butland for 4 – 0.
Some More Flair
Two minutes from time, Davide Zappacosta put some more flair on the scoreline. Drinkwater played a long ball into the box, but Josh Tymon headed it out again.
The clearance fell to Zappacosta’s feet just outside the area, and he drifted inwards some more, before rifling a left-footed shot into the bottom corner 5 – 0.
The great thing about rotation, when it’s done properly, it gives players with a point to prove their long-awaited chance… to prove their point. All five goals were scored by Chelsea players that have spent more time on the sidelines this season than on the pitch – they showed today they’re more than just backups.
And maybe it was the quality of the opposition, but Chelsea also showed vastly improved finishing compared with other recent games. They had a 42% conversion rate today versus 13% against Southampton, 0% v Everton and 25% v Brighton & Hove Albion. It helped to avoid shooting straight at the keeper maybe.
The most important stat though: Manchester United drew with Southampton after Romelu Lukaku went off injured, so Chelsea end 2017 second in the league! Yes it’s just halfway through and City are too far ahead, but it’s not bad for a transitional season. At least so far. Well done to Mr. Conte, the players and the board.
And Happy New Year everyone!
Final Score Chelsea 5 – 0 Stoke City
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Sports Illustrated
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