Top Bins: Chelsea vs. Stoke City (March 18, 2017)
1. This is what Champions do. Tricky away fixtures without their best player, not playing at their best, but still finding the late goal to win it. The importance of Chelsea pulling out a late 2-1 victory at Stoke yesterday can’t be understated.
2. I wouldn’t describe Chelsea’s performance as poor by any means, they just sacrificed their style at times to match Stoke’s physicality. Stoke came out tough as usual and sucked Chelsea into a war of attrition in the 1st half. Chelsea’s early fluidity was stifled by countless fouls and subsequent play stoppages.
3. Pedro came in alongside Willian to replace an injured Eden Hazard, who missed the match with a slight calf injury picked up in training this week. Willian can thank Stoke’s keeper for Chelsea’s first goal as Lee Grant was caught off guard & should have saved the Brazilian’s free kick easily, but I really could care less how we score in a match like this. Early goals always shut up the home crowd real quick.
4. Stoke thought they had an equalizer not long after Chelsea took the lead but the goal was ruled out when Saido Berahino shoved Cesar Azpilicueta to the ground. The linesman signaled for offside at first (which would have been incorrect), but give him credit for making the contentious call. His call was the right one & he didn’t go missing or timid in the face of the furious home fans like so many linesmen have in the past.
5. Had Berahino not pushed Dave, Stoke’s goal would have counted and Marcos Alonso would have been to blame. He was marking the disallowed goalscorer Bruno Martins Indi, but got caught ball watching and allowed Martins Indi to slip through for the 2nd header.
6. Not even 5 minutes after the disallowed goal, Stoke got their equalizer through what looked like a make-up call with an extremely soft penalty called on Gary Cahill. To be fair, Gaz didn’t do himself any favors. Jonathan Walters had no chance at heading the cross but Cahill extending his arms & clipping Walters’ foot was enough to convince referee Anthony Taylor.
7. Taylor lost the plot in the 1st half & failed to control the game from start, but Diego Costa didn’t make it any easier for him. Diego rose to the Stoke City bait early on, getting into it with Ryan Shawcross and earning himself a yellow card inside the first 20 minutes.
8. This was the second match in a row where Diego’s antics cost him a solid performance. In his defence, he was fouled three times more than any player on the pitch yesterday, but his propensity to seek conflict kept him largely ineffective until his first shot hit the post in 91st minute.
9. Chelsea’s best chance in the 2nd half prior to Cahill’s winner came in the 65th from a Marcos Alonso free kick out of nowhere that struck the bar. Left me wondering where the hell this lad has been hiding his free kick prowess all season. Chelsea have lacked a left-footed free kick taker up until now, but not anymore
10. With 20 minutes to go, Conte brought on Fabregas & switched to a back 4 for only the second time since the Arsenal defeat. I’ve gotten quite bored of the 4-2-3-1 over the years, but it was fascinating to watch Chelsea operate in the formation after seeing the 3-4-3 for so long.
11. While the 3-4-3 usually sees Chelsea getting extra bodies into attack by having the wingback opposite the ball tuck in with 3 center backs protecting against the counter, Conte’s formation change to the 4-2-3-1 was an attacking one. With Alonso & Azpilicueta occupying wingback positions, Matic dropped behind to cover in front of Luiz & Cahill as Chelsea tried to exploit the space behind Stoke’s backline
12. And then it happened. Three minutes from full time, Gary Cahill pounced on a poor clearance off a Chelsea corner to seal 3 VITAL points for Th Blues with a goal we’ll remember for seasons to come.
13. Cahill has increasingly been coming up with big goals at big times for Chelsea and his celebration showed just how much that goal & the club means to him. 0% chance this view of the celebration from the stands doesn't give you the goosebumps. GET IN GAZ.
14. Lost in the late drama was Ruben Loftus Cheek’s very own Fernando Torres moment. Ruben played well in his 10 minute cameo, he looked sharp for a guy who hasn’t played in ages and it was his hustle that won Chelsea the corner Cahill eventually scored from. I’d imagine Ruben’s performance could get him another sub appearance again soon as Conte seems willing to reward young players who play well in pressure situations.
15. Every Chelsea player & fan in the away end knew how important this win was and they celebrated like it after the fulltime whistle. This win wasn’t only a massive psychological boost for Chelsea going into the international break, but a demoralizing blow for both Spurs & City watching at home.
16. The Blues magic number is down to 21 and that’s only if rivals win all their remaining games. We good for nothin’ Americans call that ‘pole position’
17. David Luiz recovered from his only mistake this season against United last weekend by playing absolutely out of his mind yesterday against Stoke. David had the most touches (91) of any player on the pitch, with 7 interceptions and 10 clearances to go along with it.
18. In other news, Phil Bardsley is still a righteous bastard. The Scotsman could have been sent off in the 1st half for this disgusting challenge on Diego Costa, but benefited heavily from the mare Anthony Taylor was having and was lucky to only see yellow. Honestly don’t know what Bardsley’s ever done in his career apart from taking out ankles & knocking out Wayne Rooney once in his basement.
19. It was probably a blessing in disguise that Hazard didn’t play yesterday given that Bardsley tried to end him 2 years ago when we travelled to Stoke
3 Points Looking Ahead
20. The question has been asked after each of Chelsea’s last few victories but Chelsea’s win at Stoke on Saturday might actually be the final blow in the title race. Looking to the rest of this weekend’s fixtures & the next round shows just how vital this victory is for the Blues.
21. Either City or Liverpool (or both) will drop points today, while Tottenham without Harry Kane are a wildcard against Southampton. After the international break, City take on Arsenal a week before they come to the Bridge, while Tottenham have a tough away match at Burnley and Liverpool take on Everton in the Merseyside Derby. POINTS WILL BE DROPPED. Yesterday’s victory puts noticeably less pressure on Chelsea in their tougher remaining matches against City & United.
22. After the international break next week, Chelsea will take on relegation candidates Crystal Palace at home, one of the most winnable games left on the schedule. We’ll see if Eden Hazard will be fit in two weeks time, but I expect Conte to go with Fabregas over Matic considering Big Sam’s love for coming to Stamford Bridge and sitting 11 players behind the ball.