Carlo Ancelotti will prepare for his first Champions League match as Chelsea manager with spirits restored after coming through a difficult few days to secure a late victory at the Britannia Stadium. After emerging from one of the most testing away trips in the Premier League, they will take on Porto at Stamford Bridge tomorrow with a confidence befitting unbeaten league leaders.
Even a manager as experienced as Ancelotti may have struggled to stay composed after learning that Chelsea had been banned by Fifa from signing any new players until January 2011 after they were found guilty of inducing Gaël Kakuta into a breach of contract with Lens.
Yet while Ancelotti and Chelsea await the outcome of an appeal against those sanctions,the Italian has at least learned more about his squad and their ability to prosper under pressure. Perhaps distracted by the news from Fifa, a re-shuffled line-up fell behind to Abdoulaye Faye's early header but continued their 100 per cent winning start to the season with injury-time goals in either half from Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda.
In terms of providing light relief after a difficult few days, it was a win which was priceless and also served to set down a marker to their title rivals, many of whom must have fancied Chelsea to slip up against a committed Stoke side reinforced by £18.5million worth of signings during the transfer window.
"This victory was very important because it is at the start of an important period for us," said Ancelotti, who dropped Michael Essien, Ricardo Carvalho and Nicolas Anelka in preparation for their meeting with Porto. "There is the start of the Champions League and we're top of the league and we want to continue that. We are confident with the way we're playing and there's a good atmosphere in the dressing room."
Without Carvalho's steadying influence at the back, Chelsea allowed Faye an unmarked header and it took their one slick move of the first half to draw level, Frank Lampard producing a reverse pass on the edge of the box to allow Drogba to escape Stoke's attentions and fire home.
The home side provided resilient opposition with Faye excelling at the heart of a five-man defensive unit, and came within minutes of becoming the first team this season to take points from Chelsea until Malouda's low drive from the edge of the box finally broke their resistance.
"Let's put it in perspective," said Stoke manager Tony Pulis. "I think they've spent £65million on their youth development set-up so goodness knows what they've spent on the first team. You have to bear that in mind when you compare it to what we're trying to do at this club, but we've made them work for their result."
Stoke City (5-3-2): Sorensen (Simonsen, 41); Wilkinson, Ab Faye, Huth, Shawcross, Collins; Delap, Whitehead, Whelan; Beattie (Fuller, 11), Kitson (Tuncay, 65). Substitutes not used: Higginbotham, Lawrence, Pugh, Etherington.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Boswinga, Terry, Ivanovic, Cole; Mikel (Belletti, 82); Ballack (Essien, 65), Lampard; Kalou (Anelka, 62); Drogba, Malouda. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Carvalho, Sturridge, Hutchinson
Referee: M Dean (Merseyside).
Booked: Stoke Shawcross, Delap, Wilkinson; Chelsea Kalou, Terry, Cole.
Man of the match: Faye
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