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Chelsea 2-0 Stoke City, Game Recap

Florent Malouda was once again responsible for the first goal of the match. The Frenchman has scored all three of Chelsea's openers this season.
Florent Malouda was once again responsible for the first goal of the match. The Frenchman has scored all three of Chelsea's openers this season.

Not the rout Chelsea fans have become accustomed to but an ultimately comfortable win nontheless. A number of players were not anywhere near their best, and their bluntness contributed heavily to Chelsea's problems in the final third. At the end of the day it was an efficient enough performance by the Blues, who created more chances throughout the game and really should have secured victory by a greater margin, although Stoke will consider themselves unfortunate to have not scored at least one goal.

The first ten minutes were frenetic, and few would have expected just two goals to arrive after a period that included Ashley Cole missing a sitter after being set free by Michael Essien, Petr Cech being troubled repeatedly by Stoke's strikers, and then Florent Malouda being brought down in the box by Ryan Shawcross for a penalty. Frank Lampard strode to the spot, his 27/29 record indicating that Chelsea fans should be getting ready to celebrate, but he failed to get anything on his shot. Thomas Sørensen guessed the right way and was actually waiting at least half a second for the ball, so poor was the shot.

The missed penalty seemed to take the wind out of Chelsea's sails, and the buildup play became fairly slow and laboured. Lampard's missed penalty was symptomatic of his play, and with the Blues so reliant on the midfielder, his erratic passes and poor touch were costing the team dearly as they looked to penetrate the Stoke lines. Word came through after the game that Lampard was struggling through an injury and is set to undergo surgery in midweek, explaining the vice-captain's woeful display.

Chances were not exactly coming hard and fast for the Blues, and uncharacteristically poor passing was allowing Stoke to break down the lines far too often. The visitor's forays into the Chelsea half almost inevitably led to a Stoke throw-in, and that is where they're at their most dangerous. Rory Delap caused Petr Cech problems on numerous occasions, the goalkeeper often being caught in two minds about whether to come out to collect or stay in his net. Meanwhile Michael Essien was at the centre of every Chelsea attack, his drives through midfield causing the Potters real difficulty only for the Blues to let themselves down before they could finish off a move.

It took a counterattack for Chelsea to find the back of the net. Kenwyn Jones found himself in the unfortunate position of being set upon by both Alex and John Terry in the centre circle, and was dispposed by the Brazilian. Alex quickly fed Terry, who strode through the middle, spotted Florent Malouda's diagonal run, and carved up the Stoke defence with an inch-perfect pass. Malouda had time for one touch and he made the most of it, lifting the ball over Sørensen and into the goal.

At 1-0 one might have had the sense that Stoke would capitulate, and for a while things looked fairly grim. Ashley Cole sent a sublime volley crashing against the crossbar after a lofted ball found him in space, and Chelsea - with the exception of Frank Lampard - looked energised as they chased and harassed Stoke all over the pitch. Jon Obi Mikel was once again dominant in his role as the defensive shield, and had a few breathtaking moments of individual skill to boot. Stoke went into half time firmly on the back foot.

Manager Tony Pullis changed his formation in response, pulling right-back Dean Whitehead deeper in order to contain Ashley Cole, who had been a constant threat to get in behind the defence. Initially it didn't help very much. Didier Drogba was presented with a free header in the area after strike partner Nicolas Anelka had found him with a cross, but the Ivorian wastefully nodded straight at the goalkeeper.

At the other end of the pitch Drogba rapidly made amends in blocking a goal-bound shot from Matty Etherington, a passage of play preceeded by - what else - a Rory Delap long throw-in. In fact, Chelsea found themselves in considerable danger from Delap as the half dragged on without a goal, and whenever the Blues lost the ball Stoke were extremely quick to launch an attack, Chelsea becoming more and more reluctant to simply tap the ball out of play and regroup.

Stoke's best chance of the game came not from a Delap special but from a rare error by Jon Obi Mikel. The Nigerian midfielder had been virtually flawless, but a mistake allow him to be robbed by Glenn Whelan inside his own half. Terry and Alex were reluctant to challenge, allowing Whelan the time and space to take a shot from 25 yards. The screamer beat Cech easily and crashed off the underside of the bar, bouncing out to a relieved John Terry who was able to shepherd the ball back to his goalkeeper.

The Chelsea captain was by now visibly struggling due to an knock he'd picked up during a late lunge on Delap (one which he should have been booked for). However, with Jeffrey Bruma and Branislav Ivanovic unavailable, he was forced to play on, his lack of mobility ripping great holes in the Chelsea defence that Stoke looked extremely keen on exploiting. Ancelotti rolled the dice, withdrawing Lampard and replacing him with Salomon Kalou, dropping Malouda deeper to cover for Lampard's absence in midfield.

Stoke continued to press the attack, but out of nothing, Chelsea responded with a second goal. A long ball out of defence turned out to be perfectly weighted for Nicolas Anelka to run onto, and as he tried to being the ball under control he was wiped out by an inexplicably charging Thomas Sørensen. It was a clear penalty, and Didier Drogba slammed the ball into the net, sending the keeper wrong way with a perfectly taken kick.

Suddenly Chelsea were rampant. Michael Essien and Anelka came off for Ramires and Daniel Sturridge, the Chelsea debutant in particular receiving rapturous applause from the Bridge. Sturridge was instantly involved, almost scoring with a teasing cross before hammering a left footed long-range shot straight at the goalkeeper. There was time enough to grab more goals, and Salomon Kalou also came very close, doing great work to wiggle through a pair of defenders before producing a disappointing finish, but Chelsea continued to press in hopes of more.

Ultimately, they ran out of time as the game finished 2-0 to Chelsea. The perfect start to the season continued, with the Blues now scoring 14 goals to no reply, and Chelsea kept their two-point lead at the top of the table. They generated a host of chances which on another day might have gone in, but were also more porous at the back than Carlo Ancelotti would have liked. It wasn't 6-0, but the three points will do quite nicely.

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