Chelsea 1-0 Stoke City: Rating the Chelsea Players on Show
A 1-0 scoreline doesn't quite indicate utter domination, but it was all about the Blues from the very beginning.
Stoke City, true to form, defended in large numbers, leaving set pieces as their only mode of attack. Ricardo Fuller's sheer stupidity didn't help the cause, though, as he saw red in the first half.
The home side needed a victory to stay hot on Arsenal's heels, but it took a while before they could carve open the Potters' defense.
Juan Mata and Drogba, who celebrates his 34th birthday today, combined superbly for the decisive goal to bring Chelsea level on points with Arsenal, who remain in fourth place on goal difference.
However, this was not a vintage Chelsea performance, and it will be different on Wednesday in the Champions League. Napoli are a completely different kettle of fish and the Blues have a mountain to climb.
Here is how I rated the Chelsea players in action against Stoke.
Petr Cech: 6
Never really called into action. With Stoke City failing to register a single shot on target, Big Pete was a mere spectator for almost the entire duration. His defense handled whatever little Stoke threw at them.
Branislav Ivanovic: 8
Brana spent the entire first half in the opposition's half. While the Chelsea attackers had a lackluster first 45 minutes, he was the best player on the pitch through that duration. Bombed down the right flank, and had some great opportunities to score, but Asmir Begovic and the crossbar saved Stoke on separate occasions. Subbed at half time, which might have something to do with Fuller's stamp.
John Terry: 7
The captain has been sorely missed all this time. Tasted victory on his return to action. His presence made a world of a difference to the back line, and he negated the threat of Jones with minimum fuss. A solitary mistake from him, giving away the ball to Cameron Jerome, which could have proven costly. Headed a Lampard corner onto the bar in the 32nd minute.
Gary Cahill: 8
The former Bolton man had his best game in a blue shirt. Did his defensive duties with vigor, but what he really deserves credit for is the way he carried the ball forward from his half and started attacks. His fierce drive early on tested Begovic, who was compelled to make a good save. His partnership with Terry looked solid, to say the least.
Ashley Cole: 6
Ashley had an unusually quiet first half, with most of Chelsea's attacking forays coming down the other wing. Had no one to mark through the game as such, but did well whenever called upon. Joined the attack only in the second half.
This certainly wasn't his most eye-catching performance for the West London outfit. There were hardly any trademark speed bursts through the center. His work rate has never been in question, but I'm sure he would have liked to be more involved.
Frank Lampard: 7
Tested Begovic more than once and kept the visiting team goalie on his toes throughout. Had some good moments, but no end product. Won a free kick in a dangerous position right outside the box. Accurate and incisive passing otherwise.
Jon Obi Mikel: 7
All in all, the Nigerian put in a good showing with neat passing. He fed his more offensively adept teammates with confidence and belief through the game. Showed great vision to slip Lampard in on the edge of the box, but the English veteran was fouled. Sacrificed late on, as his side looked for a winner.
Raul Meireles: 5
Meireles didn't look very interested. Had one decent opportunity to shoot, but his good first touch was followed by a disappointing, scuffed effort that went well wide. No penetrative passing again. It was a wise call from Di Matteo to replace him with Mata around the 40-minute mark.
Didier Drogba: 7
This fellow is a true legend. The Ivorian, true to his nature, had the last word even as he didn't have the best of games. Finished with aplomb when set up by Mata. Just moments before that, his brilliant free kick looked destined for the top corner, but was saved spectacularly. He played Danny Sturridge in late on, but the 22-year-old couldn't quite capitalize on it.
Salomon Kalou: 5.5
Put in a few crosses from the left, but the opposition's towering defenders were there to clear away. Was largely anonymous, and gave the ball away carelessly late on. Will have to do better to stake a claim for a starting berth.
Juan Mata: 8
Chelsea were a different team after Mata came on. All of Chelsea's good moves went through him. He set up the winning goal, using his right foot to find Drogba in the box, who rounded the keeper to slot home. His free kick late on hit the post, with Begovic beaten all ends up. A brave decision by RDM to bring him on before the break.
David Luiz: 5.5
Got a bit of a trial run at right-back, but didn't really have anybody taking him on. Passed the ball around, but looked out of position.
Daniel Sturridge: 5.5
Gave the Blues a different dimension after coming on with his quick feet and pace a menace for the opponents. But he was selfish all too often. Also, didn't take the chance presented to him by the Drog late on.
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