Roberto di Matteo continued his strong start as Chelsea manager with a 1-0 home win against Stoke City. His task was made somewhat easier by Ricardo Fuller's insane stamp on Branislav Ivanovic 25 minutes in, which saw the visitors reduced to ten men for most of the game, but Chelsea failed to break through until after the hour mark, when Juan Mata fed Didier Drogba with the Ivorian able to dance around Asmir Begovic and slide home. It wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but it's still three vital points in a season where comfortable wins have been hard to come by.
Some interesting things to note from this game, which featured Chelsea starting in a 4-2-3-1 with a Raul Meireles-John Obi Mikel pivot, Ramires as a right winger and a whole host of starters dropped to the bench. To the bullet points!
- Chelsea are going to be hammered for not winning by more against ten men, but I actually think they played fairly well for most of the match. They controlled the centre, moved Stoke's defence around, and hit the woodwork three times in addition to having a few other good chances. Chelsea's problem recently has been patience, and I'm glad to see it resolved here - Stoke are very good at sitting back and defending in numbers, and the Blues were sensible enough to just try to break it down.
- That said, there was one major problem with the attack. While Didier Drogba does indeed make a great target for crosses, the Potters are more than capable of dealing with an aerial bombardment and Chelsea spent far too much time lobbing aimless balls into the box from the wide positions. Instead of early crosses and normal deliveries, the team should have focused on beating the fullbacks, who were both relatively poor, and then cutting back from the byline. There's no reason to simply play into Stoke's hands like that.
- It's telling that Chelsea scored from central play rather than from the flanks, and it's exactly the recipe for breaking Stoke down. Have Mata play in the middle, have Drogba make a run to open up space, and slip him an intelligent ball. The fact that Mata was drifting so much made it much more difficult for Chelsea to open the defence up.
- Speaking of the goal, it was Drogba's 100th in the Premier League. Nice landmark for a Chelsea legend on the club's birthday.
- Mata should stop taking corners. Frank Lampard's were good. Mata's were terrrrible. We had some decent direct free kicks today though.
- David Luiz was pretty rubbish at right back. He came on after Ivanovic was forced off at halftime, and did approximately zero useful things.
- I really can't believe how nasty Fuller's stamp on Ivanovic was. Earlier in the season, Sunderland's Phil Bardsley stamped on Mata, a red card offence which eventually saw the right back suspended. This stamp was about ten times as malicious and blatant. If Tony Pullis complains about that red card, he's a madman. (He won't.)
- Roberto di Matteo's substitution of John Obi Mikel for Daniel Sturridge seems like a mistake to me. Yes, Chelsea scored directly afterwards, but Sturridge wasn't involved, and the team then lost a lot of its passing verve and looked dicey for the rest of the match. Mikel was controlling the game, and taking him off isn't what I'd have done.
- Ramires is much better on the wing than in a double pivot, as it turns out.
Three points wooo.