I suppose a 1-0 home win is a more than fitting birthday present for 51-year-old Jose Mourinho, although this wasn't exactly an ordinary 1-0 win. Stoke City seemed to come to Stamford Bridge with absolutely zero intent of progressing to the fifth round of the FA Cup, and Chelsea dispatched them with a very neat Oscar free kick. Then we spent sixty minutes finding new and hitherto unexplored means of failing to score, which gave the match a certain tension that it never really deserved.
The Blues could have taken the lead through Samuel Eto'o twice inside the first two minutes. The Cameroonian, fresh off a hattrick against Manchester United last weekend, made the first chance on his own, receiving the ball from Eden Hazard in the box before dancing through the Potters' bewildered defensive duo of Ryan Shawcross and Marc Wilson and feathering a shot inches wide of the far corner. Asmir Begovic was well beaten, and he would have been toast thirty seconds later had Eto'o come a millimetre closer to Hazard's neat cross.
Coming very close to scoring and then not would turn out to be something of a theme.
It took the defence maybe ten minutes to settle into the match, with re-debutante Nemanja Matic a little casual with possession and both David Luiz and Gary Cahill guilty of some lax marking on Peter Crouch, but Stoke weren't able to do any damage during that spell, and from then on Chelsea cruised. Matic in particular had a very good game -- the opposition had much to be desired, of course, but his ability to win the ball and spark attacks was in evidence here. On the basis of this performance it was €25 million well spent.
Meanwhile, at the other end, a spectacular strike by Oscar proved to be all the scoring we'd need. Erik Pieters brought down Eto'o 25 yards out, and the Brazilian stepped up to produce a free kick that Gianfranco Zola himself described as a 'masterpiece', hitting his shot with such swerve that Begovic was wrong-footed despite the ball ending up bang in the top corner.
That certainly didn't look like being the only goal of the game. Stoke's defence wasn't able to cope with the Chelsea onslaught, and the Blues might have grabbed another two or three before halftime. Certainly, it's a mystery how Frank Lampard didn't score at least one -- our all-time leading scorer fluffed his lines when presented with a clear chance on the 40th minute, somehow failing to score when Hazard put the ball on a platter after some brilliant work down the right.
Seconds after Lampard's big miss, Stephen Ireland reminded us that the visitors posed at least a nominal threat when he smashed a shot into the side netting, but it was a rare positive moment for the Potters, and Chelsea's reply would have ended the game if not for the cruel intervention of the woodwork after Oscar spanked a shot past Begovic on the run.
There were more chances and more misses. Andre Schurrle, so excellent at the Brittania Stadium, gave the post a rattling of his own after fine work by Matic and Oscar; later on Eto'o and Ramires combined for the pick of the lot, failing to slot in a loose ball inside the six yard box after Hazard had left Stoke's back line utterly discombobulated.
Normally, this level of profligacy would have given our opponents some hope of getting back into the match, but it never seemed as though the Potters had any self-belief. Had it not been for Oscar's goal, of course, the misses would have been far more frustrating. As it was, however, Mark Schwarzer was entirely untroubled, and we were able to see out the rest of the match extremely comfortably despite having completely failed to pad our lead.
The reward for this endeavour turned out to be a second trip to the Etihad in two weeks, the most difficult fifth-round draw possible. But that's probably just how Jose wanted it. Go big or go home.
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