Premier League: Chelsea return to top spot after easing to 3-0 win over Stoke City
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @graemebailey. Last Updated: 06/04/14 4:35pm
Mohamed Salah: Opened the scoring
Chelsea moved back to the top of the Premier League table after a 3-0 win over Stoke City at Stamford Bridge.
Stoke battled hard throughout, but they never looked like beating Petr Cech and once Chelsea had the lead, the result was not in doubt.
Mohamed Salah, making his first start for the Blues, opened the scoring with a nice first-time finish just after the half-hour mark.
Best of the Match
- Man of the Match: Willian was outstanding in the number 10 role, ran the show and scored brilliant third.
- Save of the Match: Begovic performed well but his was excellent to save at the feet of Torres in the first-half - his penalty stop was also good.
- Pass of the Match: Wonderful long ball from Nzonzi almost set up Arnautovic but he could not convert.
- Talking point: Do Chelsea still have a chance of winning the title?
Salah then played a hand in the second as he was brought down by Stoke sub Andy Wilkinson on the hour. Asmir Begovic saved Frank Lampard's spot-kick but Chelsea's record scorer followed up for the 250th goal of his career.
The win was sealed on 72 minutes thanks to a wonderful finish from Brazilian Willian - his first in front of his own fans - as he curled the ball past Begovic from the edge of the box.
It was a fitting finale for the match, as Willian controlled the game from the middle of the park and was the outstanding player on show.
The three points take Chelsea back to the summit, albeit what could be for less than 24 hours with Liverpool facing West Ham on Sunday.
Jose Mourinho declared Chelsea's title challenge was over after last weekend's loss at Crystal Palace and, with the Blues' fate out of their own hands, winning the remaining six games was the target.
It was no doubt the response Mourinho - now unbeaten in 77 home Premier League matches - had demanded. Chelsea had lost three of their last five games following the Selhurst Park loss with a 3-1 Champions League quarter-final first-leg loss at Paris Saint-Germain, when Mourinho selected a striker-less starting XI.
It seemed like the ideal time for Stoke - winners of three straight games and with one defeat in nine - to head to Stamford Bridge, a venue where they had not won in the league in 40 years.
With Tuesday's return at home to PSG in mind, Mourinho rested Eden Hazard and Oscar in a team showing four changes following the midweek loss in Paris which included starting Fernando Torres.
Torres was involved early on but he was muscled off a Willian throughball by Ryan Shawcross and Marc Wilson and the striker then shot wide after Cesar Azpilicueta stole the ball near the edge of the visitors' box.
It was not all about Torres, though, as Salah shot straight at Begovic and Branislav Ivanovic, who joined the attack whenever he could, headed weakly from a Lampard corner.
A Willian shot deflected off Glenn Whelan and forced Begovic to turn the ball round the post for a corner and Ivanovic blasted wide with the outside of his right boot.
Stoke's meek response was Peter Odemwingie's ambitious effort, which was never going to trouble Cech from 35 yards.
Torres went down under the attentions of Geoff Cameron in the penalty area, but no sooner had referee Lee Probert waved play on, Chelsea were in front.
Azpilicueta found Nemanja Matic with a throw-in and the Serb brushed off Odemwingie before drilling a pass back across the area for Salah to sweep in a shot which wrong-footed Begovic.
Ivanovic then thought he had doubled their lead just moments later but he was narrowly offside in heading past Begovic.
Charlie Adam and Wilkinson replaced Wilson Palacios and Cameron at half-time, with the Scot soon throwing his weight around and catching Andre Schurrle on the foot.
The German made way for Hazard a few minutes later, with the Belgian having an immediate impact as his neat flick played in Salah, who was fouled by Wilkinson for a penalty.
Lampard's spot-kick was well saved by Begovic, but the midfielder followed up to score.
Stoke had few forays forward, with Marko Arnautovic failing to bring down a lofted pass and the ball running out, before Chelsea netted a third.
Hazard fed Salah, who in turn found Willian. With the Stoke defence backing off, the Brazilian brilliantly curled in from the edge of the box.
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Chelsea v Stoke
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho gives his reaction following his side's 3-0 win over Stoke.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes said too many of his players under-performed in their 3-0 defeat to Chelsea.
Frank Lampard insists he could keep playing for another 'two or three years' after hitting his 250th career goal.