Chelsea continued their strong start to the season with another three points against a tricky Stoke outfit. The Blues cemented their place at the top of the Premier League having dropped just two points from five games and conceded a miserly two goals.
But as ever, there have been a number of talking points that have emanated from the game, both positive and negative.
It may seem pedantic to discuss such issues so seriously at this early stage of the season, but some points could have more of a lasting effect on the team’s fortunes for the remainder of the campaign.
Chelsea’s winner came from the most unlikely of sources in Ashley Cole, in what was his first league goal since the notching the eighth against Wigan at the end of the 2009-10 season.
This could be interpreted in a number of ways.
Cole became the seventh different scorer for the Blues in all competitions this season. Considering the team have managed 14 goals so far, this represents a healthy balance and an even spread of goals throughout the club.
But this team effort also presents its share of problems, particularly when one considers the performance of the side’s natural attacking talents.
Once again, Fernando Torres looked out of sorts.
The Spaniard appeared to have rediscovered his form of old after a decent Euro 2012 campaign and some promising displays at club level in recent weeks. But against Stoke he looked like the Torres of last season—slightly off the pace and largely ineffectual.
Granted, this may just have been an off day for him, but it was a worrying sign given that the club have few other options regarding the central striker’s position.
Perhaps this was only a minor blip for Torres, but I for one have concerns regarding the Chelsea forward line. Considering the fact that the likes of Cole, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill cannot be relied on as a consistent source of goals; the Blues could soon find three points like the Stoke result quickly turning into just one.
It was noticeable that Hazard's display was not at the same level as some of his other showings so far this season; however this does not worry me too much.
It would be tough for anyone to sustain the level of performance that the Belgian has produced in earlier games, thus a temporary dip in form was always going to be likely.
Besides, Stoke are a side known for their physicality, and it must be all the more difficult for a man of just 5’7” to compete against a team whose starting line up had an average height of 6’2”.
Also, the club are greatly prepared for eventualities such as this.
Hazard may have been somewhat below par, but the likes of Juan Mata more than atoned for this. Last season’s Player of the Year was the side’s main creative force and even provided the pass for Cole’s 85th-minute winner.
And with the likes of Oscar capable of filling the role of playmaker, Chelsea are certainly well equipped in that area of the team.
But regarding the substandard performance of Hazard himself, don’t expect it to last long. I for one remain fairly sure that he will be back to his mercurial best in the very near future.
A victory, nonetheless
Many were quick to criticise Chelsea for a lacklustre display and their inability to break Stoke down.
Roberto Di Matteo’s men struggled to create too many clear-cut chances and Stoke even hit the bar through Jonathan Walters and saw Michael Kightly’s headed effort cleared off the line with the score tied at 0-0.
However, it must be acknowledged that Stoke are a notoriously tough team to play against. Since their promotion to the top flight in 2008 they have recorded impressive victories against Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool.
Their aforementioned physicality, combined with an admirable stubbornness makes any victory over the Potters a valuable three points.
Furthermore, while it may be a ridiculously overused cliché, picking up a win despite not playing particularly well is widely considered the hallmark of a title-winning side.
The fact that Stoke managed almost as many shots as Chelsea is testament to the Blues’ lack of dominance, but they battled through and were able to show their quality by earning a victory nonetheless.
David Luiz’s Challenge
One of the less savoury moments of the game was the David Luiz challenge on Walters in the 90th minute.
The Brazilian’s two-footed lunge made contact with the Irishman’s shin and could have caused the Stoke player serious injury.
Luiz was booked by the referee but Stoke manager Tony Pulis was quick to voice his opinion on the matter, as reported by BBC Sport:
It's a dreadful challenge, you expect a referee of Premier League quality to deal with it. It is a very, very bad challenge.
It is the kind of incident that no one wants to see in any game of football, and hopefully David Luiz will learn from his error and refrain from such rash behaviour in future.
This was certainly one of the less glamorous Chelsea displays that we have seen this season, but it yielded a vital win that maintains the club’s early season superiority.
Though certain individuals were not at their best in the victory, this remains only one result and there are still plenty of games to be played before stars such as Torres should be judged.
And let’s hope that the dangerous challenge from David Luiz was clumsy rather than malicious, and that such an incident won’t rear its ugly head again in the future.
I’m sure you guys will have your own opinions on Saturday’s game, so make sure you comment below letting me know your personal reaction and what you think about the talking points discussed in the article.