In watching Chelsea defeat Stoke 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon, Blues supporters were left pondering something.
Had normal service resumed, or was this a blip in Carlo Ancelotti’s ‘playstation football’?
After notching 21 goals in their three previous outings at home, expectations were high, but those who chose to temper them with more realistic goals will have come away with a feeling of satisfaction.
For whilst Thomas Sorensen’s goal was breached just twice, on another day it could quite conceivably have been another rout, as Tony Pulis’s side were outclassed for the vast majority of the afternoon.
Ancelotti has changed just one position in his line-up so far this season, with Branislav Ivanovic’s knee injury causing some concern. The Serbian international was replaced at right-back by Paulo Ferreira, whilst new signing Ramires took his place amongst the substitutes.
Ashley Cole spurned a chance inside the opening five minutes, dragging his shot wide after Michael Essien had played him in behind, and despite Frank Lampard uncharacteristically missed a penalty won by Florent Malouda, the tone of the game had been set.
With John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien dictating the play from the middle of the park – the pair completing a combined 195 passes from an attempted 202 – and Ashley Cole rampaging down the left, it seemed a matter of time before the breakthrough arrived.
Jonathan Walters kept Petr Cech awake at the other end with a shot which looped onto the roof of the net, but it was a rare attempt at goal from the Potters. They had their share of play but found John Terry and Alex in exceptional form at the heart of the home defence, and it was Terry who was decisive in making a breakthrough.
Breaking up possession on the halfway line, he strode forward into the space invitingly left ahead of him. A nudged through ball to Florent Malouda later, and the Frenchman had opened the scoring for the third consecutive match, his fourth goal of this fledgling season.
Cole then saw a volley crash off the crossbar as Chelsea looked to press home the advantage, but there was just one goal on the scoresheet as the teams retired to the dressing rooms at half time.
On another day, Didier Drogba would have scored the free header afforded to him at the start of the second half, but instead he planted it straight at Sorensen.
The Ivorian had largely been on the periphery of the action, often up against two or three big Stoke defenders, but had stung the hands of the Danish goalkeeper with a free kick earlier in the match and was doing enough to keep them alive to his considerable threat.
Rory Delap was Stoke’s main outlet in attack, and whilst Chelsea dealt well with the majority of his hurls, Drogba was required to help clear Matthew Etherington‘s shot from the goalline after one trademark delivery.
Perhaps the visitors sensed a route back into the match, and they would come a matter of inches from equalising when substitute Glenn Whelan crashed an effort off the underside of the crossbar. It bounced to safety, and served as a wake-up call to the defending Champions, who wasted little time in putting the game to bed.
Anelka was released in behind and beat Sorensen to a long ball before being felled just inside the area, giving Martin Atkinson little alternative than to award a second penalty.
With Lampard having been substituted with a hernia complaint, Drogba stepped up to score emphatically and maintain one of only two 100% records in the football league.
Salomon Kalou should have added gloss to the scoreline with a tame finish after doing well to beat two men, whilst Ramires was introduced to the crowd with a five-minute cameo to debut in English football.
It was another strong showing from a team who look exceptionally content in their current surroundings. Mikel and Essien used the ball superbly throughout and were key to Chelsea’s 65% possession, whilst Alex, Terry and Cole were exemplary at the back.
The international break now follows before a trip to Upton Park to face West Ham, who have lost all three matches to date, conceding nine goals in the process.
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