Over anxious Chelsea fans and over optimistic Man Utd fans read yesterday’s clash with Stoke all wrong. There were none of the nerves that saw Chelsea narrowly edge past Bolton two weeks ago, and none of the timidity that saw them outplayed by Spurs last Saturday.
This was as one sided as football gets. Chelsea had 72% of possession and had 25 attempts at goal to Stoke’s one (which was off target). Chelsea had seven corners, Stoke, none.
It was a hugely impressive performance, with the high-tempo, unfaltering commitment and positive attacking intent that was so absent against Spurs. This certainly wasn’t the ‘real’ Stoke who, shorn of anything to play for courtesy of a strong mid-table placing, weren’t their normal committed selves. But, following Man Utd’s win the previous day, this was a high-pressure game against a well-organised side with an excellent away record. To come away such comprehensive winners is remarkable.
Given far too much too much time on the ball, there were good performances across the pitch. The defence did everything it needed to, and Ashley Cole made an impressive attacking return to the team following a long injury. Sam Hutchinson did well too, making an appearance as a substitute, and provided an excellent cross for Lampard’s second. Kalou did well to temporarily silence his critics with a hat-trick and Sturridge showed again that he has an eye for goal.
Despite Kalou’s goals, Lampard would probably get most people’s vote for man of the match. He was everywhere, expertly setting the tempo for the game and creating no end of opportunities. He scored two himself, the first from the penalty spot (his ninth of the season) and the second a quite exquisite volleyed chip over the stand-in Stoke keeper. Had Messi scored that goal, the Sky pundits would have had no hesitation in proclaiming him the greatest player on the planet. Elsewhere, Lampard created Kalou’s second when Sorensen could only parry his low shot towards the left post and also Kalou’s third. It is inexplicable that somehow Lampard hasn’t been voted into the PFA Team of the season.
In an otherwise immaculate game, there were only two travesties. One, that Drogba didn’t score. It was an odd day for the Ivorian, whose first touch seemed to alternate between the sublime and the ridiculous: his control in the lead up to the first goal approached genius. Secondly, that Malouda didn’t get more than one. One miss in the second half would probably qualify as the miss of the season and he forced a great save minutes later. He was probably a relieved man when he finally tucked a chance away in the match’s closing moments.
But what does this result mean? Well, it won’t mean much at all if Chelsea don’t also see off Liverpool next week. The Liverpool game – regardless of talk that Benitez’s players won’t give their all to prevent Utd winning their 19th Championship – will be an entirely different prospect. Yesterday Ballack was given the time and space to set the pace of the game from deep – he and his teammates will have no such luxury next week. The Chelsea full backs won’t be able to be so carefree in attack, either.
Liverpool showed yesterday that they’re picking up some form and can score goals without Torres. They are technically still in the hunt for fourth, too. There’s no doubt that Ancelotti will be a little more conservative next week against a side with a fantastic recent home record. But a high-tempo, positive approach is still the order of the day: start the game as Chelsea did against Stoke, and a conflicted Liverpool distracted by the Europa League should be very beatable.
The results that follow will determine whether yesterday is deemed a high point or quickly forgotten. Chelsea are in the driving seat, but a stressful two weeks lie ahead.
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