Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea travelled to the Bet365 Stadium to take on Stoke in a notoriously tricky fixture. The Blues were just three points adrift of the two Manchester clubs going into this game against a Stoke side that suffered an embarrassing defeat to Bristol City in midweek.
While many top sides struggle against Mark Hughes’ side, Antonio Conte’s side dominated the game and were as clinical and organised as is befitting of Premier League champions.
Chelsea strike early
Both teams lined up in 3-4-3 formations as Mark Hughes attempted to counter Antonio Conte’s hugely successful system. Unfortunately for the Stoke manager his team suffered the worst possible start. Cesar Azpilicueta played a simple through ball over the top to Alvaro Morata and the Spanish striker expertly controlled the ball before slotting it home past Jack Butland. Stoke responded well after the early goal but Chelsea looked to have returned to the sort of defensive solidity and persistent pressing that served them so well last season.
Both N’Golo Kante and Tiémoué Bakayoko looked excellent in the opening 20 minutes. The pair were confident in their passing and hungry to recover the ball whenever Stoke were in possession. As the game settled Chelsea started to retain more possession, but the Blues seemed to favour the early over the top ball in their attempts to penetrate a tall, physical Stoke back line.
The champions prove their worth
Both teams made use of the wide areas and it was Stoke who looked the better side on balance, but Chelsea struck somewhat against the run of play. Stoke captain Darren Fletcher chested the ball down straight to Pedro and the winger fired a shot that was always curling away from Butland and into the far corner. The second goal gave Stoke an uphill battle to get back into the game and Chelsea started to control the tempo and dominate possession.
To their credit Stoke battled hard and Mame Biram Diouf experienced a lot of success down the right hand side in the spaces vacated by the attacking-minded Marcos Alonso. The Potters failed to convert a few dangerous corners and the game started to open up, allowing Chelsea’s pacey forwards to wreak havoc on the counter. It was the home side that came closest before half time however as Diouf’s acrobatic effort following a Joe Allen cross sailed a metre wide of the post.
Tempers flare as Stoke push for a goal
Stoke came out of the half time break and immediately started to challenge Chelsea in a much more physical game. Shaqiri picked up a booking for dissent following a strong challenge on Andreas Christensen, and Alonso was lucky not to be sent off after clumsy tackles on Allen and Diouf in quick succession. This exchange got the crowd fired up and added a spark to the game. It wasn’t long before Conte decided to take Marcos Alonso off before he lost his head, and his departure prompted renewed attacking vigour from Stoke.
Peter Crouch was introduced for the largely ineffective Jesé and Stoke’s game plan shifted to long balls and crosses. The impact was almost immediate as Crouch headed down for Diouf, but the Senegalese international fluffed his lines. Stoke looked threatening and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting should have won a penalty after an awkward tackle from Cahill, but Mike Dean saw differently.
Morata blows Stoke away
Antonio Conte decided to stem the flow of Stoke attacking pressure by introducing Cesc Fabregas, and the Spaniard allowed Chelsea to maintain significant possession for the first time since the half. Stoke still threatened from set pieces and Fletcher couldn’t atone for his earlier error as the Scotsman miscued an open header from five yards out.
On the 70-minute mark Willian made way for Eden Hazard, and Chelsea started to turn on the style after the Belgian came on. Glen Johnson gave away possession to Morata on the halfway line and the Chelsea striker took the ball past three Stoke players before opening up his body and hitting a delightful dinked finish over Butland from a tight angle.
The former Real Madrid man completed his hat-trick just minutes later as Azpilicuta chested the ball down for Morata to tap into an empty net. Hazard’s introduction seemed to lift Chelsea to a new level, and Stoke were lucky that the score line remained 0-4 at the full time whistle as Morata had two more great chances to add to his tally.
It was another typically impressive away performance for Chelsea, masterminded by Antonio Conte. Alvaro Morata continued to show why he was signed with three brilliant goals, and Chelsea remain very much in the hunt to retain their Premier League title. The return of Eden Hazard will only improve their prospects.
Stoke have had an inconsistent start to the season, but they were completely outclassed by a Chelsea side on top form. The Potters have some exciting talent up front, and a number of defensive injuries inhibiting their performances, but Mark Hughes still has reasons be concerned.
Stoke: Butland; Pieters, Martins Indi (Afellay, 76’), Johnson; Fletcher Allen, Sobhi, Diouf,; Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Jesé (Crouch, 62’)
Chelsea: Courtois; Alonso (Cahill, 59’), Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rüdiger, Moses; Kanté, Bakayoko; Willian (Hazard, 72’), Pedro (Fabregas, 68’), Morata
Goals: Morata (0-1, 2’), Pedro (0-2, 30’), Morata (0-3, 77’), Morata (0-4, 82’)
Referee: Mike Dean
Yellow Cards: Shaqiri (49’), Alonso (52’), Kante (57’), Crouch (89’)
Red Cards: None
Stoke: Butland 6; Pieters 7, Martins Indi 7 (Afellay), Johnson 5, Fletcher 6; Allen 7, Sobhi 6, Diouf 7; Shaqiri 6, Choupo-Moting 7, Jesé 5 (Crouch 6)
Chelsea: Courtois 7; Alonso 6 (Cahill 7), Azpilicueta 9, Christensen 7, Rüdiger 7, Moses 7; Kanté 7, Bakayoko 8; Willian 7 (Hazard 8), Pedro 8 (Fabregas 8), Morata 9.5
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