Goal.com looks into the five things we learned from Chelsea's slender 1-0 win over Stoke this weekend...It seemed like sheer coincidence that Chelsea’s managers in the season so far had their baptism of fire against one of the most physical sides in the Premier League, Stoke. The unfortunate AVB who oversaw a goalless draw against the Potters at the Britania wasn’t so lucky to be on the touchlines for the return leg.
Instead it was the first test as Chelsea interim manager for former Blue midfielder Roberto di Matteo. He had already registered a win with Chelsea in the FA Cup during midweek and it was vital that he made the right impression in the league in which Chelsea’s campaign has been below par compared to their performances in the seasons gone by.
Thankfully for Di Matteo, Chelsea managed to grind out a win against 10 man Stoke after Didier Drogba notched up his 100th Chelsea goal on the eve of his 34th birthday and proved to the critics just why he was not to be written off so easily. Let’s take a closer look at the finer points of the Chelsea’s all important win against the Potters
1) Chelsea need to find a playmaker to help Juan Mata
When Juan Mata came to Chelsea, he was a breath of fresh air to a squad that was devoid of any flair, and some creativity. After that he has barely been on the bench under AVB as everyone knew that it was his ability to pick out teammates that was needed so desperately. However at times the burden is too much to shoulder for the little Spaniard who could do with some help. The rest of the midfield is hell bent upon getting the ball to the full backs to whip in one of their crosses. This has led to sides easily figuring out Chelsea’s style and hence able to contain the Blues in the final third of the pitch.
All 11 players Mata! | Mata has been become the ONLY creative outlet in Chelsea's midfield
Chelsea brought on Mata for Raul Meireles after Ricardo Fuller’s moment of madness left Stoke handicapped by a man. Though it was a positive move by Di Matteo, Chelsea laboured to break through a resolute Stoke defence. There was no genuine width to stretch the defence and the midfield opting to pass the ball sideways did not help matters. The likes of a Sneijder, Modric, Gotze need to be signed if Chelsea are to bring some style and flair to their attacks else they will continue to be witness to the same old Chelsea style of attempting to bulldoze their way past defences.
2) Stoke are a tough nut to crack even when down by a player
If there was something that Tony Pulis has brought to Stoke City, it’s a resolute nature. After Fuller’s rush of blood led to his marching orders and Mata’s introduction into the game, it was more of a case of when Chelsea would score. But Stoke did not have anything of that sort in their mind. They put up a fight and ensured that Chelsea had to earn their win. At times Chelsea played right into their hands.
Full of malice | Fuller's angry stamp meant that Stoke played for over an hour with 10 men
This could be seen with Chelsea’s numerous corners. All were punted into Begovic’s penalty area in hopes of finding a blue jersey, but Stoke rubbed their hands together and dealt with all of them with ease. It was like attempting to pass Barcelona off the park.
The only way Chelsea got the goal was by a moment of sheer class by Mata and an emphatic finish from Drogba. Even after the goal Stoke refused to keep their head down and tried hard to nick a goal. All of their substitutions were positive and they did not attempt to park the bus being a man down. It was surely seen that had Fuller not reacted so unwisely Stoke may have just taken a point or a win at the Bridge
3) Di Matteo’s tinkering with the Chelsea formation
Its almost common knowledge to teams in Europe that Chelsea prefer to play a 4-3-3 system with extensive use of the full backs to provide the width. It is their stubbornness to move away from the system that Jose Mourinho introduced into the club that has proved to be one of Chelsea’s root cause for their sub standard performances lately. Di Matteo surprisingly went for a 4-4-2 with Kalou partnering Drogba up front. Lampard and Ramires occupied the wide positions with Mikel and Meireles as holding midfielders.
As the game progressed Chelsea shifted to a 4-5-1 with Kalou drifting wide allowing the likes of Lampard to make his darting runs into the box. For the first 20 minutes or so Chelsea looked sharp and hungry for the goal. Ivanovic was playing out of his skin and looked most likely to score. The game began with pace but soon started to slow down with Chelsea beginning their trend of going sideways.
A playmaker was definitely needed. Fuller’s sending off brought about a reaction from Chelsea as they shifted to a 4-1-4-1 with Mikel acting as the defensive screen. Although Chelsea will be challenged to their maximum when Napoli comes calling, there is no doubt that this was a performance of solidity that Chelsea haven’t exhibited in a long time
4) John Terry is the most vital cog of the Chelsea machine
It was almost the most welcome sight to any Chelsea fan. John Terry’s name on the team sheet. After rumours of Terry being ruled out for atleast 6 weeks after his knee surgery, JT again showed his grit and desire to play for the club by making a miraculous recovery to start the game.
It was seen what Chelsea had missed for so long. His leadership skills were of paramount importance as he rallied his troops to help grind out a win for his club. His partnership with Gary Cahill was impressive to hold off the likes of Jones, Walters and Jerome. They would however be put to a sterner test against the likes of Cavani, Hamsik and Lavezzi in the Champions League.
Terry’s mere presence on the pitch rubbed off onto his teammates and made them more hungry to win the game. It is this sort of desire that Chelsea’s players need to show to get the results they so covet and with Napoli visiting London, JT’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for the club
5) Drogba still is the top striker at the club and Sturridge needs to start
He was one of Mourinho’s untouchables during the Special One’s reign. There were calls for him to move away from London as he grew older. He was criticized for being sloppy in possession and lazy at times. But it was Didier Drogba’s goal that ultimately decided the tie at the Bridge when his expertly taken goal gave Chelsea a massive 3 points. Torres’s signing was considered a threat to Drogba’s place in the team. However Torres’s dismal record in front of goal has not warranted the title of Drogba’s competitor in the team. Chelsea still feel confident of scoring whenever Drogba leads the line. The big man was rumoured to leave Chelsea to China following teammate Nicolas Anelka but his decision to stay till the season ends will have brought some temporary relief to the Blues fans. Though his contract runs out at the end of the season, Chelsea are not willing to offer him a long term contract. If Drogba continues to deliver like against Stoke, it may force the Blues hierarchy to reconsider their offer.
Still Top Drog | Drogba rolled back the years to latch on to Mata's pass to score the winner
If Drogba was part of the old Chelsea way of bashing through the defence to score, Sturridge is more of a player who relies on his pace and ability to take on opponents with his skill and bullet of a left foot.
A largely unused player under Ancelotti, he was the first name on the team sheet under AVB and despite being made to play on the wings he showed just why he deserved to start. There were rumours that he was unhappy being played on the wing, but he constantly put in good performances and gave his side a bit of energy along with the likes of Ramires and Juan Mata. In Di Matteo’s two game spell with Chelsea he has been left out of the Chelsea XI to be brought on later.
Until he was brought on against Stoke, Chelsea were slow in their buildup and Mata was trying hard to pick the lock of the Stoke defence. Sturridge’s arrival brought a different approach as he had the skill and pace to trouble the Stoke defence who dealt with the aerial threat of Drogba quite easily. It was seen that Chelsea need Sturridge to start against Napoli to take the game to the Italians from the word go.
The Napoli defence is resolute but also ageing. Sturridge’s pace would surely help Chelsea’s cause to overcome a 2 goal deficit. It is left to be seen whether di Matteo opts to bring Sturridge as an impact sub or does the more positive thing by starting him and push Napoli into making a mistake and conceding.
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