It is not just Manchester United who are suffering in this gloriously unpredictable Premier League campaign. In a week of buried hoodoos at Old Trafford, Stoke City ended their own 38-year wait for a League victory over Chelsea thanks to a spectacular last-minute goal by the substitute Oussama Assaidi.
The Moroccan winger, on loan from Liverpool, had not scored a Premier League goal before yesterday but came off the bench to earn Stoke an unlikely victory as he stepped in from the left and curled a wonderful shot past Petr Cech and into the far corner. It was a goal that brought the roof off the Britannia, and will have been celebrated at Anfield too, given that Chelsea’s defeat means they slip below Liverpool into third place.
“I said he had to be ready if called on to make an impact, but I hadn’t anticipated such an impact,” said the Stoke manager, Mark Hughes.
It was an outcome that had appeared impossible during an opening half-hour dominated by the visitors, yet with just Andre Schürrle’s ninth-minute goal to show for their dominance, an exasperated Jose Mourinho suggested afterwards that he could already see it coming. After half an hour we should be winning three- or four-nil, and we weren’t,” the Chelsea manager said. “You have to kill the game.
“I can compare the first half with the first half at Everton and Newcastle,” he added, likening it to those two earlier losses. “Exactly the same – chances, chances, chances. We are not a physical team, we are not a team with the conditions to defend against physical teams. We have to score when we have the game in our hands.”
He is right about Chelsea needing to score. They have conceded more goals in 15 League games this season – 17 – than they did in the whole of Mourinho’s triumphant first season at Stamford Bridge in 2004-05. And to leak three against Stoke, who had scored just five in seven previous home League games under Hughes, underlines their vulnerability.
None of that seemed a concern when Schürrle took a pass from Jon Obi Mikel and turned Ryan Shawcross one way then the other before unleashing a low, angled shot past Asmir Begovic. Yet for all of Chelsea’s control that killer touch was missing. Ramires shot over twice, while the ineffectual Fernando Torres – later replaced by the almost as ineffectual Demba Ba – failed to reach Juan Mata’s ball across the six-yard box.
Three minutes before the break, Stoke were level. When Marko Arnautovic swung over a corner, Cech came off his line but failed to get anywhere near the ball. It dropped to Peter Crouch, who shot through Cech’s legs, past Ramires and into the net.
Hughes, celebrating his first notable victory as Stoke manager against his former club, said. “Chelsea gave us a bit of a run-around in the first half and we had to hang on in there. In the second half I thought we were excellent, and the two goals we scored were outstanding.”
The first of those arrived five minutes after the restart as Jonathan Walters shrugged off Cesar Azpilicueta on the right and fed Stephen Ireland, a substitute for the injured Charlie Adam, who bent a lovely shot in off the far post.
Chelsea responded quickly as Schürrle pounced on a half-cleared free-kick, sending a fierce drive beyond Begovic. The German might have had a hat-trick – he struck the crossbar before a calf injury forced him off – but instead the late twist came at the other end.
Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Wilson, Shawcross, Muniesa; N’Zonzi, Whelan; Walters (Assaidi, 84), Adam (Ireland, 18), Arnautovic; Crouch.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Ramires, Mikel (Lampard, 70); Schürrle (Eto’o, 70), Mata, Hazrd; Torres (Ba, 60).
Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Man of the match: Wilson (Stoke)
Match rating: 8/10