One of the easiest Premier League games that Chelsea will ever have, to sum up just how difficult life is for the under-pressure Mark Hughes at the moment. The champions thrashed Stoke City 5-0 and the only surprise was that it wasn’t one of those truly humiliating scorelines – a seven, eight or even nine – that could really have made the visiting manager’s position untenable. It really was that bad, made known by the away fans leaving after just 24 minutes.
The one caveat was that this was a makeshift Stoke XI that seemed to be picked with more winnable matches in mind, given that there was no Xherdan Shaqiri or Peter Crouch, and that was why it didn’t matter in the slightest that Antonio Conte had also decided to rest Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas.
The decision with the Belgian might have raised a few eyebrows given how it came the day after his father so willingly talked up a move to Real Madrid, and it could even be light-heartedly stated this vibrant attacking performance was an attempt to prepare for life after his departure, but that would be reading far too much in for it. Hazard was on the bench to keep him fresh, and Stoke were so bad that it was difficult to really tell how good Chelsea actually were.
The champions were at least in impressively rampant and ravenous mood themselves, and showed as much with a goal after just two minutes and 30 seconds. Willian was given the time a cross, and Antonio Rudiger was given the free space to pick the corner with a header.
That was the story of the game, and an utter indictment of this Stoke side, no matter who was on the pitch. There were so many occasions when a Chelsea player was ambling into the opposition half, only to realise there wasn’t a single opposition challenge forthcoming, so they were able to bring the ball all the way up to the other end.
Given that kind of game, it was only a matter of time until Chelsea had their second, as Danny Drinkwater got his first for the club. A loose ball careered out to him at the edge of the box after just nine minutes, and he had the time to tee it up and beautifully hit it on the bounce into the far corner.
It was even worse just 14 minutes later. This time it was two players left free, as Willian played an easy ball on the edge of the box to Pedro, who turned and simply whacked the ball into the corner.
It was 3-0, and could have been so much more, because it got to the point where Chelsea had so much space it was causing them to even second-guess themselves, as if they couldn’t believe it.
That was the case for two Alvaro Morata one-on-ones. The Spanish striker was given the space of the Stoke half to run at Jack Butland on two different occasions, only to delay his finish and give the goalkeeper the opportunity to block his efforts down. It is probably the one remaining issue in Morata’s generally excellent all-round game. While he is technically supreme, and so elegantly effective with instinctive lay-offs, headers and touches, he is not quite “a killer” – to use his manager’s own words – in such situations.
It didn’t matter here because Stoke’s challenge was already long dead. The best they could offer in response was one tame Saido Berahino shot, as he still looks for his first goal, and then a Mame Diouf effort ruled out for a clear handball. Chelsea were so comfortable, Conte was even willing to give N’Golo Kante a rest by taking him off.
It still didn’t mean a rest for Stoke, as Willian was then taken down in the box by Geoff Cameron for what seemed a soft penalty, before the Brazilian himself stroked it past Butland. Substitute Davide Zappacosta then made it 5-0 just before the end, driving it into the corner after – of course – being allowed the freedom of the Stoke half to stroll through.
This was barely even a stroll for Chelsea, as reflected by how many Stoke fans walked so early.
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