Blues’ Hard-Fought Stoke Victory Shows They Have the Mettle to Claim Premier League Crown

Credit: Chelsea Football Club via Facebook.

Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Stoke City may not have been as convincing as Blues fans were hoping for, but the ability of Antonio Conte’s squad to overcome the spoiling tactics employed by the tenacious – often overly aggressive – Potters proved more than ever that they are a champion side.

For most of Saturday afternoon, it appeared as though Stoke boss Mark Hughes’ gameplan was set to return dividends for the ninth-placed side. Despite Chelsea taking an early lead through Willian, Stoke hit back with a 38-minute penalty through Jon Walters, who had been ruled to have been pushed by Cahill.

From that point on, the Potters looked as though they had Chelsea’s number, with their aggressive and resilient defence roughing up Diego Costa – who gave back as good as he got – in an attempt to unsettle the notoriously fiery forward. Numerous players ended up in the book as Costa found himself a frequent target of both opposition players and fans; the Spaniard himself received a yellow card following a typically angry outburst directed towards referee Anthony Taylor in the first period.

Later, Hughes would deny his Stoke side deliberately picked out the Blues’ number 19 for special treatment. “People are trying to say we targeted him – absolutely not,” Hughes insisted. “I played in that position many, many years”, he says, calling Costa an “outstanding” striker. But at the same time, “he has elements of his play you don’t need. It takes away from his image as a player. It’s not necessary… he went over too easily on numerous occasions and he stays down.”

Despite such criticism of Costa being nothing new, the Spanish international cut a different figure in the second half, with his focus now thankfully being more on his football than tussling with opponents. That’s not to say Stoke let up their aggression, however; Phil Bardsley would eventually see himself sent off in the game’s closing stages for two bookable discretions.

With 20 minutes remaining on the clock and no signs of a breakthrough, Conte decided to gamble on changing up a 3-4-3 formation that has proved so successful this season by sending on Cesc Fabregas for Victor Moses – who has reportedly aggravated a calf injury.

Credit: Chelsea Football Club via Facebook.

As it happens, the gamble ultimately paid off, with Cahill making up for giving away the penalty in the first half by firing home the winner from a corner on 87 minutes. In the game’s final quarter, the Blues could well have gone for broke as the scoreline became increasingly frustrating. However, the side were able to remain admirably patient, turning the screw on their scrappy but admittedly outclassed opponents until they eventually got their reward.

The scenes of jubilation on the bench and stands that followed both Cahill’s goal and the final whistle were telling: Chelsea had been made to work damned hard for the three points that now take them 13 points clear at the top of the table heading into the international break and 1/25 in the Premier League betting to claim the crown.

Make no mistake about it: while those celebrations no doubt included a healthy dose of relief, what fans really applauded was the fact that the Blues had the mental fortitude go down to the wire to grind out a scrappy win in the face of some aggressive defensive tactics; the hallmark of a successful Premier League – and some may daresay double – winning side.

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