Malouda swift to break Stoke's stranglehold

Chelsea 2 Stoke City 0

Florent Malouda describes the carefree fluency Chelsea have displayed in their opening Premier League games as feeling "like I was back in my garden". And well he might, for things are certainly looking rosy for Malouda and the rest of the defending champions. Stoke City provided stiffer opposition than either West Bromwich Albion or Wigan had managed on the previous two weekends but the champions were unruffled.

Malouda and Didier Drogba both scored to take their personal tallies to four goals apiece this season, while Chelsea's collective record reads played three, won three, scored 14, conceded 0.

After the game Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, seemed more concerned with Chelsea's London neighbours Arsenal, attacking their manager, Arsène Wenger, over his suggestion that Ryan Shawcross kicked Tottenham's goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes last week. "It was totally and utterly out of order," Pulis said. "It is not what you expect from a person of Wenger's esteem. The club will deal with it in the right and proper manner. We have written to the Football Association, the Premier League and to Arsenal. If you say he said it to sidetrack and influence the referee, then I would agree with you."

Stoke made life as difficult as they could for Chelsea, squeezing the play into a zone that ran for 20 yards from the edge of their penalty area. Every Stoke outfield player apart from Kenwyne Jones spent most of the game in that confined area, content to let Chelsea pass the ball about just as long as they did not get too close to goal.

However, Chelsea's newly found ability to play off the cuff, to improvise and create the unexpected, was the decisive factor. Malouda broke the Stoke resistance with a simple goal, cutting through the visitors' defence with sudden and unexpected ease.

The improvisation came from John Terry who, picking up a loose ball on the halfway line, ran at the back- pedalling Stoke defence before rolling the ideal ball into the path of Malouda's run. The Frenchman finished with the confidence you might expect from a player who has now scored four goals from three games.

Chelsea went in at half-time 1-0 up, but it could so easily have been more. Frank Lampard was guilty of missing a penalty when Malouda was fouled by Shawcross, placing his kick far too close to Stoke's goalkeeper, Thomas Sorensen, who saved low to his left.

It was Lampard's third successive penalty miss, after failed attempts from 12 yards against Portsmouth in the FA Cup final and for England in a pre-World Cup friendly against Japan. Maybe it is time for the midfielder to be relieved of this responsibility, for both club and country.

Chelsea also hit the bar when Ashley Cole met Drogba's cross with an athletic volley.

But Stoke do the simple things well, and after an hour their dogged resistance seemed to have taken the edge off Chelsea's verve and invention. Sensing a surprise point could be a possibility, Stoke poked their noses out of their own half and immediately started to cause problems. Matthew Etherington's shot was charged down by Drogba, and then the substitute Glenn Whelan thundered a wonderful effort from 30 yards that beat Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal but smacked squarely against the crossbar.

With the visitors starting to push forward, space opened up for Chelsea, who went further ahead with a goal on the break. Drogba's long ball found Nicolas Anelka, who was brought down by Sorensen for Chelsea's second penaltyof the game. Lampard had already been replaced by Salomon Kalou, so Drogba took responsibility and scored with little fuss.

Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea's manager, was not entirely happy, however. "It was not our best performance, we didn't have a high tempo," he said.

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