Another lesson in reality for a Premier League newcomer. Against a team missing Deco and Joe Cole, Stoke City kept out Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack, only to find a £16 million right-back scoring one goal and making another. Jose Bosingwa, much the best of the many expensive players Chelsea have signed in that position, was on the mark for the first time since joining from Porto and after a brave rally by Tony Pulis's side he created a goal for Nicolas Anelka, a £15m substitute.
Lampard and Ballack were excellent in midfield, an area Stoke tend to bypass in moving from back to front with maximum speed. Although parking several buses in the Anfield goalmouth earned a 0-0 draw last week, in driving forward at home they were always vulnerable to Chelsea's more sophisticated breaks.
Even Luiz Felipe Scolari had not seen a weapon like Rory Delap's huge throw-ins, but the Republic of Ireland international was declared unfit. Deprived of that threat, Stoke brought in the big striker Mamady Sidibe as a target for their clearances and set-pieces, with his partner, Dave Kitson, looking largely in vain for the second ball and knock-downs. Chelsea supporters disdainfully bawling "hoof!" at every long ball must have gone home with sore throats.
"A difficult game," Scolari said. "It's sometimes impossible to play beautiful football. The other team sometimes don't try to play. First win the game. Then if it's possible, play beautiful football."
Stoke hoped to capitalise on corners instead of throws, the irony being that as soon as they won one, after 35 minutes, they found Chelsea breaking upfield to score. The corner was nodded back across goal to Sidibe, who could manage no power in his header at the far post. Petr Cech cleared and Bosingwa went down the right, feeding Salomon Kalou, who passed inside to Lampard. A chip to Bosingwa and the full-back chested down and scored with a shot across the goalkeeper that Andy Griffin, racing back, could not quite keep out.
Stoke had been pinned back for the first quarter of an hour. Early on, Ballack had a 25-yard shot pushed over the bar by Thomas Sorensen and from the resulting corner the goalkeeper plunged to save Ballack's header at John Terry's feet. Ballack's free-kick then flew off the wall for a corner, and when the midfielder Seyi Olofinjana lost the ball, Lampard put Drogba clear and Sorensen had to save with his foot.
Stoke left the pitch at half-time to appreciative applause, returning to find Chelsea bringing on Anelka for the injured Kalou and almost scoring again. Abdoulaye Faye presented possession to Florent Malouda , Sorensen having to divert the swerving shot on to the bar with his forearm.
Scolari, who has made a virtue of sticking to the same personnel and formation as much as possible, kept to the same 4-3-3 for a while with Anelka out on the right, from where he wasted one good chance by shooting high and wide. So strongly did Stoke push, nevertheless, that with 20 minutes to play it was felt necessary to introduce Juliano Belletti as an extra midfield player. Pulis, meanwhile, sent on another beefy striker, Ricardo Fuller, and came desperately close to equalising. Leon Cort met Liam Lawrence's corner with a firm header that had the beating of Cech, but John Obi Mikel cleared off the line.
One error, however, and they were done for. Bosingwa swung in a low cross from the right and Cort merely cushioned it straight to Anelka, who put the seal on a sixth successive away win. "It's like defending against the red arrows – or the blue arrows," Pulis said. "But I'm very pleased that we've played two top teams and competed very well."
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