The rage burning inside Didier Drogba as he was ushered down the tunnel by Paulo Ferreira suggested that this was no warm-up for the main event at Stamford Bridge in two days' time.
This was a match that Chelsea badly needed to win and as they strove to haul themselves past a resilient and resourceful Stoke side, one of their fans suggested that Drogba should have put the ball into the box. The striker with a boxer's build squared up to his questioner as the final whistle went and had to be led away.
Nevertheless, this was a display in which Drogba had asserted his right to start against Manchester United in Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final. It was not just that he scored or beat Asmir Begovic with a beautifully-directed diving header to cancel out Jonathan Walters opener for Stoke. It was not that he struck the frame of the goal – something the home side did to Chelsea twice – but the way he seemed to be everywhere, the way he tackled back. "It was important to see him in this condition and it was important to see him score," his manager, Carlo Ancelotti, reflected. "He used his power, ability and personality."
And yet it was not a game Chelsea won and nor did they really deserve to. If they were to retain their title, Chelsea needed Manchester United to feel their breath on the back of their necks but, with seven games remaining, Sir Alex Ferguson's side can barely hear the echo of their running shoes.
However, as the United manager seeks to emulate Sir Matt Busby by winning the European Cup at Wembley, Chelsea stand before him like a vast blue wall. Ancelotti argued that this fiercely-competitive draw would have mattered only if his team had picked up injuries or played badly. They did neither.
"Whether it is the Premier League or Serie A, the performances are important to check on the condition of the team," he said. "After this game we can say the team is in good condition. We wanted to win it but the result was right and we will not lose confidence over it. The Champions League is another week, another story."
Ancelotti has reached three Champions League finals at the helm of Milan and all have involved Manchester United in some way.
In 2005 and 2007 Milan knocked them out en route to finals with Liverpool and in 2003 he lifted the European Cup at Old Trafford.
It is worth pointing out that in none of these years did Milan win Serie A. By contrast, Ferguson's three finals have all come in seasons in which Manchester United have won the Premier League.
In one of those finals, in the teeming Moscow rain, Chelsea were the beaten team, although their goalkeeper, Petr Cech, tried to argue that this somehow left no scar, not even in the heart of his captain, John Terry, who squandered the decisive penalty. "It is three years back now," he said. "They didn't really win it; they had more luck in the shoot-out than we did."
Terry would probably disagree with that assessment, neither before or since has he appeared so overwhelmed by self-inflicted hurt than within the walls of the Luzhniki Stadium.
Cech was, however, right to point out that since that night, the psychological advantage has lain squarely with the Londoners. Ferguson does not need to win at Stamford Bridge but the last time he did was nine years ago and the only survivors of that 3-0 victory are those four mud-coated veterans, Terry, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
"We will still go into Wednesday's game with confidence because our record against Manchester United, especially at home, is very good," he said. "We will not discover anything new at Old Trafford. We have played there many times and won there last season."
Fernando Torres, too, knows what it is to beat Manchester United. Of all the gold-plated carrots dangled before him was the argument that if he left Liverpool for London he would be virtually guaranteed Champions League football.
Now when the nation finally has a series of European fixtures to excite it, it hard to see why this most elegant of centre-forwards should start; certainly not on the evidence of the half an hour he was given at Stoke.
At Atletico Madrid, they called him El Nino, "The Kid", and now he resembles nothing so much as a boy with his football, looking at a game from the sidelines, wondering if he will be invited to play.
Scorers: Stoke Walters 8 Chelsea Drogba 33 Substitutes: Stoke Whitehead (Whelan, 85), Collins (Higginbotham, 90), Fuller (Pennant, 90) Chelsea Kalou 5 (Ramires, 61), Torres 5 (Anelka, 61), Ivanovic (Bosingwa, 80).
Booked: Stoke Walters
Man of the match Drogba Match rating 7/10.
Possession Stoke 48% Chelsea 52%.
Attempts on target Stoke 6 Chelsea 9
Referee P Walton (Northants) Attendance 27,508