Chelsea 3 Stoke City 0 match report: Lampard keeps Chelsea's ‘impossible dream' of title alive
Jose Mourinho might have given up on the League title but Chelsea return to the top of the table thanks to an outstanding display from their long-serving midfielder
A week after Jose Mourinho announced that it was “impossible” for Chelsea to win the Premier League amid the disgruntlement of defeat at Crystal Palace, his team returned to the top of the table, albeit only a point ahead of Liverpool, who play at West Ham this afternoon.
Manchester City, a point further back and with an extra game in hand, remain best placed but Liverpool’s home games against the two other contenders – City next Sunday and Chelsea three weeks today – still hold the key to the outcome of an unpredictable season.
Not that Mourinho was prepared to change his assessment significantly, even if leading 3-0 with fully 20 minutes left thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah, the outstanding Frank Lampard and Willian allowed thoughts and tactics to turn towards making up the 3-1 deficit in Tuesday’s second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Paris St-Germain.
Chelsea will at the very least approach it in good heart and with the full support of a noisy home crowd who saw them overwhelm a disappointing Stoke City; the total of 18 shots to four in favour of the hosts was a fair reflection of the balance of play.
“If we concede one against Paris or have a clean sheet we have a chance, so it’s important to defend well,” the manager said. As for the position at the top, he added: “The situation is the same. The table is again fake, with lots of matches in hand.” With Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore standing at the back of the room, he added a new criticism: “I don’t think it’s the best image, playing matches in the last midweek of the season.”
What would have made Mourinho happier would have been a goal for Fernando Torres, who said in an Independent interview this week that he wanted to make himself Mourinho’s best option on a regular basis. Allowed a start, unlike last Wednesday, while Eden Hazard and Oscar were rested, he ran willingly but still without registering a first Premier League goal since early January, or coming close.
Fortunately the Egyptian Salah, starting for the first time, and Andre Schürrle were more effective down the flanks. Nemanja Matic, ineligible for the Champions League, was back in midfield and much more solid than David Luiz, which crucially allowed Lampard to do much more of what he should have done last week at Selhurst Park, bursting forward in support of the attack. Despite the changes further forward, Mourinho stuck with his now regular back four, having tempted fate by praising them so fulsomely before the “joke” goals conceded in Paris. They were untroubled almost all game, Petr Cech having only one straightforward save to make, when Peter Odemwingie, after four goals in three games, chanced his arm from 20 yards.
Stoke, revitalised under Mark Hughes, know they have much to play for despite this result: a highest finish for almost 40 years; most points, wins and goals in a Premier League season; even ending the campaign as highest placed Midlands side for what would be the first time ever.
Already they have completed more passes in a season than under Tony Pulis’s more fundamentalist regime. They were not averse to longer balls to try to turn the Chelsea defence but the confidence gained from three successive victories was only in evidence briefly before the home side began pushing them back. “I was disappointed because in recent weeks we’ve been better than that,” Hughes said.
Lampard was the key figure, even though not involved in the opening goal. In the 10th minute he took part three times in the move that set up up Torres, who dragged a shot wide from 20 yards – an early indication that this might be one of those days when things just did not go his way. Asmir Begovic pulled off the first of several saves, this one from Willian’s deflected shot and then redeemed himself after a bad clearance by smothering Torres’s effort from close in as Erik Pieters unwisely chested down a cross. The goal Chelsea deserved arrived just after the half-hour mark and could be said to have stemmed from smart work by a young ballboy, who caught a Stoke clearance to applause and immediately gave it to Cesar Azpilicueta. His throw-in sent Matic to the byline to cut back a low pass that found Salah for a left-footed shot that flew past Begovic’s outstretched leg.
It would have been 2-0 at the interval had Ivanovic pushed his head forward a fraction later before turning Lampard’s centre into the net. The offside decision was about as close as it was possible to be.
Two half-time substitutions indicated Hughes’s displeasure with his team’s performance while the introduction of Hazard only 13 minutes after the resumption suggested Mourinho was anxious about the single-goal margin. He need not have been. The Belgian’s first intervention, twisting and turning before supplying Salah, led to a penalty and the overdue second goal.
Andy Wilkinson clearly brought down the Egyptian and although Begovic beat out Lampard’s spot-kick, the midfielder beat him to the rebound to score.
The crowd were willing a goal for Torres, but the best he could do was taking a defender away as Willian curled in a fine third goal to relax the manager and those supporters who may believe their team are not entirely out of contention yet.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Lampard (Luiz, 70); Willian (Cole, 77), Salah, Schürrle (Hazard, 58); Torres.
Stoke (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron (Wilkinson, 46) , Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Nzonzi, Whelan; Odemwingie, Palacios (Adam, 46), Arnautovic; Crouch (Walters, 77).
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Lampard (Chelsea)
Match rating: 6/10
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