Roman Abramovich, whose absence from last Sunday's Old Trafford debacle was much discussed, declined to watch the team he owns this weekend as well. For a long time it looked as if the Russian was a good judge. In the end he missed one of those extraordinary comebacks which can change a season.
Stoke were within three minutes of their most famous victory against Chelsea since the 1971-72 Football League Cup Final when Juliano Belletti equalised Rory Delap's 60th-minute goal. Frank Lampard then won the game deep in added time. It was mightily cruel on Stoke who looked like achieving a result to better their defeat of Arsenal and brace of scoreless draws with Liverpool.
Those results may provide a fig-leaf defence for Luiz Felipe Scolari when he discusses this match with the club's benefactor but Abramovich – assuming he is interested – will doubtless wonder whether the scoreline obscures a deepening malaise, or indicates Scolari is heading in the right direction. Chelsea kept going, and played well in midfield, but they were unconvincing in centraldefence, toothless in attack and, due to injuries and the estrangement of Didier Drogba, short of alternatives on the bench. Scolari, having insisted he did not feel under pressure, said he felt the comeback proved his team were more "together" than before. There had, he said, been internal discussions since the Manchester United defeat and the squad were more united because of them.
Most of them, anyway. Drogba was again omitted from the 18. "I have nothing against Drogba," said Scolari. "He is training well but it is my choice not to select him. Maybe in the next game he plays. Today it was better to pick two young kids [Franco di Santo and Miroslav Stoch]." Would he sell Drogba? "That is up to [Peter] Kenyon [the chief executive]."
From which it can be deduced all is not well. In the circumstances Scolari did not want to hear the morning news that Joe Cole had undergone an operation after anterior cruciate ligament damage was diagnosed on the knee he injured at Southend on Wednesday. Cole will be out for the season, which is a blow to Fabio Capello as well as Scolari. The latter at least has a fortnight in which to buy a replacement – but intimated he did not expect to be given funds.
Then John Terry's troublesome back went in the warm-up. He is expected to play next week, but it is a worrying situation, for Chelsea and England. Without him Chelsea looked vulnerable at every set-piece, not least because they practised a curious mix of man-for-man and zonal marking. Fortunately for Petr Cech, who allowed Abdoulaye Faye a free header from the first corner, Stoke thereafter struggled to gain enough possession to force throw-ins or corners. It nevertheless took time for Chelsea to get behind Stoke. Salomon Kalou was forced wide after Lampard's reverse pass enabled him to round Thomas Sorensen; he should have done better when a Lampard free-kick eluded everyone else.
As pressure grew Sorensen shone, reacting sharply to parry Nicolas Anelka's shot-on-the-turn before turning aside powerful shots by Ashley Cole and Lampard. The breakthrough loomed when Florent Malouda's first-time cross teed up Michael Ballack, unmarked, eight yards out, soon after the break. But he headed wide and it came at the other end. James Beattie, making a solid debut, came off Ricardo Carvalho to chest down a clearance. With Alex too deep Beattie was able to feed Delap running beyond Cole. Delap held off the England left-back to beat a dithering Cech.
Lampard led the response, peppering Sorensen's goal. The game was largely being played within 20 yards of the Danish keeper and shots rained in. By block after block the Potters stood firm. Scolari threw on a series of substitutes but Drogba's shadow loomed large. Finally, with the away support singing, "You're going to get sacked in the morning," came salvation. One sub, Di Santo, headed Kalou's cross across goal and another, Belletti, headed in. Then another bout of bagatelle in the Stoke area ended with Lampard thrashing the ball in. "It killed us," said Tony Pulis, Stoke's manager. "We began to think it might be our day but you have to credit Chelsea for keeping going. They're not in crisis, they are a great team."
Referee: Peter Walton
Man of the match: Ab Faye
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content