Stoke City vs Chelsea: 6 Things We Learned
Stoke City were unbeaten at the Britannia Stadium in 11 months, and had conceded only seven goals in that time. Chelsea had suffered two defeats in three games, losing at home to QPR and Swansea City with a 5-1 away win at Southampton, their only win in 2013.
Demba Ba started the match ahead of Fernando Torres and Petr Cech returned from a groin injury. Gary Cahill was left out of the squad to be at the birth of his son, so David Luiz moved back to cover his absence.
Chelsea looked far more threatening in attack and were 1-0 up at halftime courtesy of a Jonathan Walters own goal. The Stoke striker's day went from bad to worse as he doubled Chelsea's lead on 62 minutes.
A Frank Lampard penalty and a superb strike from Eden Hazard put the game out of reach, before Walters compounded his misery by missing a penalty, opting for the power shot and striking it off the crossbar.
Here are six things we learned from Chelsea's demolition of a tricky Stoke City side.
1. Roman Abramovich Needs to Appease the Chelsea Fans
Chelsea have played four games in 2013 and have comfortably won their two away fixtures, beating Southampton 5-1 in the FA Cup and ending Stoke City's 11 month unbeaten home run with a comprehensive 4-0 victory.
Their two home games have proved more difficult, and they were defeated by Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League and Swansea City in the Capital One Cup semifinal first leg. This is largely due to the hostile atmosphere at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's fans are beyond frustrated with the current situation at Chelsea. Their continued show of support for former manager and player Roberto Di Matteo in the 16th minute of every game since his dismissal is the tip of the iceberg. Rafael Benitez was brought in to replace Di Matteo and to try to get the best out of Fernando Torres. It worked for a while, but the Spaniard has reverted to his former negative attitude and it's having an impact on the rest of the squad.
Add to that the way the club are dragging their heels over contract talks with Ashley Cole, and their refusal to even discuss a new deal with Frank Lampard, and you have one seriously angry set of fans.
Abramovich must do something to address their concerns soon, or he will face an all out revolt at Stamford Bridge.
2. Starting Demba Ba Makes All the Difference
When the starting lineups were announced, Chelsea fans around the world breathed a sigh of relief. Demba Ba started up front in place of Fernando Torres, who recorded 12 touches in the 81 minutes he was on the pitch against Swansea City.
The impact on the way the team played was instant. Recent matches have seen the whole team look sluggish and off colour, and with Torres spearheading the attack there has been very little movement. This changed with Ba on the pitch, as his movement and enthusiasm made everybody up their game.
It was great goalkeeping from Begovic to deny Ba a third goal in three games, but the positivity he brings made sure that Chelsea looked threatening every time they surged forward.
3. Rafa Benitez Hates Oscar
Hate is a strong word, but it is obvious that if Rafael Benitez had been Chelsea manager during the summer, he would not have signed the young Brazilian.
With Victor Moses on African Cup of Nations duties with Nigeria, Oscar started in the Capital One Cup semifinal, where he displayed flashes of brilliance interspersed with some quieter periods. Many thought that he would keep his starting place against Stoke, but he was once again consigned to the bench. Ryan Bertrand was the player taking his place on this occasion.
Bertrand played on the left of midfield in the Champions League Final, but he is supposed to be working on becoming Ashley Cole's successor at left-back. With that in mind, it is even more baffling that Benitez would drop Oscar.
Tiredness is definitely not a factor, as Juan Mata started and Fernando Torres was introduced with 20 minutes to go.
Therefore, the only conclusion to draw is that Benitez simply doesn't like Oscar. Why? You'll have to ask him.
4. Stoke City Are No Pushovers
Stoke City have the tallest squad in the Premier League with nine players over six feet tall. Their set pieces are feared by everyone they face, even the Premier League champions Manchester City, who were caught moving the advertising boards to prevent Stoke using their trademark long throws in their recent match at the Etihad (via The Metro).
Since winning promotion to the Premier League for the 2008/09 season. They have since established themselves firmly in mid-table and their long unbeaten home record is testament to the difficulties they pose their opposition on a weekly basis.
5. Fernando Torres Is Untouchable
Whilst Oscar is struggling to get a game under Rafa Benitez, Fernando Torres just can't get himself dropped. His performances of late have been so shockingly poor that it almost seems as though he doesn't want to play, and you would be forgiven for thinking that his relegation to the bench for the trip to Stoke was a sign that Benitez had seen what everyone else has known for months: Torres isn't up to the job.
However, despite Benitez's insistence that the striker is tired and in need of a rest, he sent him on to replace Demba Ba with 20 minutes left to play. It didn't look like he wanted to enter the game, so why he was thrown in when the match was over, at 4-0 to Chelsea, is a mystery.
6. John Terry's Return Gives Chelsea Much Needed Leadership
John Terry came off the bench in the 79th minute, for the first time since a knee injury sustained in the 11th November game against Liverpool saw him sidelined. He was issuing instructions from the touchline before he came on, and despite protesting, he received the captain's armband from Frank Lampard.
A challenge in the dying minutes of the game saw him concede a penalty, but John Walters capped his dismal day by smashing it against the bar.
Terry's return is an important step towards Chelsea regaining control of their performances. During his absence, the negativity surrounding Fernando Torres created a cloud around the rest of the squad, and soon everybody spent the majority of the match looking at the floor. Time to wallow in your own self-pity is not a luxury the Chelsea captain will afford you.
Terry plays with passion and heart, and commitment to the cause. He understands that the team are not trying their best for the owner, or the board, but for the fans who turn up every week to see them play. That has been missing at Chelsea recently, but with Terry back barking orders, the performances will certainly improve.
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