Chelsea vs. Stoke: 6 Things We Learned from the Blues' Late Win
It was almost another woeful day for Chelsea, who had not won a match in their last three tries in all competitions prior to Saturday.
Yet, of all people, Ashley Cole came to the rescue in the 85th minute to finally break the deadlock and hand the Blues the three points that they needed.
In a game like this, fans often draw their own varied conclusions from the action. Why were Chelsea so impotent for the first 85 minutes? Is a tactical rethink needed to spice things up in attack? Shouldn't Chelsea have an easier time of beating an average side like Stoke?
These are all valid concerns, but let's whittle them down to six things we learned from Chelsea's late win.
Oscar Certainly Wasn't Injured
After Chelsea's disappointing midweek draw against Juventus, there was some worry about whether Oscar would be able to play against Stoke due to injury. With the majestic performance he turned in against the Italians, surely that he would be rewarded with his first Premier League start is healthy.
Well, he was healthy, and he was so rewarded.
In my opinion, Oscar was the best player on the pitch. Even when Chelsea resorted to lackadaisical play in midfield and slowed the game down to the point where it was impossible to break Stoke down, he was continuously looking to create space for himself or others.
The Potters were generally able to neutralize Chelsea's attacking threats, but Oscar was one they couldn't contend with.
Eden Hazard Is Not Quite God
After his first couple games in the Premier League, many were anointing Eden Hazard the best value of the transfer window, despite his £32 million price tag.
Hazard is certainly one of the the best players on this Chelsea team and a near-automatic starter when fit. But let's not anoint him a god just yet.
His display against Stoke, the most physical side in the Prem and one that marked him extremely closely, was ineffectual at best. While Hazard did successfully execute some tricks and flicks, he was certainly nowhere near his best.
Some growing pains, perhaps, for the man who is made out of flesh and bone.
Victor Moses, We Hardly Knew Ye
I saw some Chelsea fans vehemently call for Victor Moses to start against Stoke to add a different sort of element to the team.
Rather than focusing on flair, Moses is a pacey and direct winger who can be a real asset against defensive-minded teams whose main objective is to park the bus.
Well, the former Wigan man didn't start, but when he came on for the final half-hour or so, he revitalized Chelsea's stagnant attack.
It was not uncommon in the latter stages of the game to see Moses marauding forward on a mazy run, the likes of which no other player would have attempted or succeeded with, and linking up with the likes of Oscar and Juan Mata to great effect.
While the price tags of the players in front of him will likely preclude him from starting, Moses should have no trouble getting playing time if he continues to impress like he did against Stoke.
Tony Pulis Isn't Quite so Bad
He may coach the most negative, cynical, defensive, bruising, tactically primitive and backward side in the Premier League, but Tony Pulis is not all bad.
Going into the match, we all knew that Stoke's manager would be perfectly content with a draw against one of the best sides in the land and one that clearly has more skilled players than his.
Yet, when the two teams were tied going into the final stages of the match, Pulis brought on attacker after attacker to boost Stoke's attack and make a push, however futile for all the points on the road at Stamford Bridge.
A striker, Michael Owen, on for a midfielder, Charlie Adam, plus winger Matthew Etherington and another striker, Kenwyne Jones, showed that Pulis is not completely stuck in his ways.
I still strongly dislike the man, but credit where credit is due. Those were risks that didn't pay off, but at least he took them.
We Need to Give It Up for John Obi Mikel
John Obi Mikel is the type of player who is always overlooked by the media, rarely discussed by pundits except when he makes a colossal mistake or improbable goal and yet somehow starts week after week.
I think the role suits him actually. You don't need to be a footballing genius to see how much he contributed to Chelsea against Stoke, but you do need to pay attention a little more closely than when observing Eden Hazard, for example.
On the infrequent occasions when the Potters got forward or at least tried to, Mikel was there to shield the defence. When Chelsea were bringing it out of defence and advancing it through the midfield, Mikel was usually the man who facilitated the transition.
He might not have the flowing blonde locks of Fernando Torres or the glowing ability of Oscar, but it is time that we recognized John Obi Mikel as a truly important member of this team.
A Tactical Rethink Might Be Needed
Chelsea's midfield and attacking players are the envy of almost every other team in the Premier League. With Juan Mata, Oscar, Eden Hazard, Frank Lampard and more all available, you almost can't go wrong if you're Roberto Di Matteo.
Except if you pick them all together.
Any team obviously needs its fair share of creators to make the chances that win games, but is it possible to have too many on the pitch at the same time?
At times, it looked as if Hazard, Mata and Oscar were each playing their own games and acted as if they were the focal point of the attack, rather than recognizing that there were men on either side of them who were equally capable.
While these may just be growing pains with a new-look side that has barely played competitively for a month, Di Matteo might have to think about new ways to use all the talent at his disposal.