A spirited Stoke side brought to halt the Chelsea revival, as an impressive first half showing was followed by an abject second half performance which made us work hard to earn a point from the game.
Jon Walters had given Stoke City the lead inside the first 10 minutes, but a Didier Drogba strike, his first in almost two months, levelled things up.
Chelsea started with their standard 4-4-2 formation, but resorted to their first-choice striking pair from the start of the season of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka to provide the necessary ammunition with Fernando Torres starting from the bench.
Stoke started with the same starting line-up that demolished Newcastle before the international break, as they looked to continue their unbeaten run at home in 2011.
The game came a little too early for the returning duo of Alex and Yossi Benayoun, both of whom are expected to be ready for the second leg at Old Trafford in ten days time.
The game had barely begun when a mistake by David Luiz, fresh from winning the Player of the Month award, put Chelsea on the back foot and allowed Walters to run at our defence before coolly slotting in home at Cech’s near post to take a shock lead.
After seeing United make a comeback early on, this goal should have been a damper for the Blues, but Carlo Ancelotti’s men responded to it and got on with their business.
Ashley Cole had the chance to equalise straightaway as Malouda’s over the top ball found him free, as he lost his marker at the back post, but his header was brilliantly saved by Asmir Begovic. From the resulting corner, Frank Lampard brought Begovic into action again with his sweetly struck volley from distance.
Chelsea started to dominate the possession and were rewarded for their decent spell when Nicolas Anelka’s perfectly measured ball into the box was met by Dider Drogba and his header gave Begovic no chance at all.
Both teams went into the half-time on level terms, but Chelsea enjoyed the better of the half after the initial setback as they restricted Stoke to playing in their own half for the latter part of the first 45, but the home side looked dangerous on the counter.
John Terry, making his 500th league appearance, showed in a moment’s time how his hunger for success is still as high as ever as he didn’t even let Walters get a practice shot on target after the whistle for half-time had gone.
The second-half started on a similar pattern as the first with Chelsea on the offensive, but soon Stoke found their rhythm and started to ask questions of Chelsea.
Petr Cech was called into action from Jermaine Pennant and stopped a certain goal with his save, while at the other end Drogba, under pressure from Etherington, hit the post after some nice build-up play. Frank Lampard was next to try his luck as his swirling shot was parried by Begovic for corner.
Carlo Ancelotti then called upon Fernando Torres and Salomon Kalou to replace Nicolas Anelka and the Ramires as he looked to freshen things up.
Even though Torres went close with a deflected shot, it was Stoke who looked the more dangerous of the two sides with Jones going close after taking out both Terry and Luiz in one go, but his shot went wide.
The game had opened up as both teams went for it, but this time it was Stoke who were enjoying the better of the possession.
Stoke then hit the bar twice inside a minute as Marc Wilston’s brilliant free-kick hit the bar with Cech beaten and then former Chelsea man, Robert Huth, header was pushed on to the bar by the ever-impressive Petr Cech to keep things level.
Despite being under such pressure, Chelsea could have taken all three points, but were denied by the goalpost as Didier Drogba’s sumptuous volley on the turn rattled the bar.
Chelsea had one more chance after Torres broke from a Stoke corner, but his layoff for Frank Lampard wasn’t fruitful as the England International was crowded out by returning Stoke defenders, leaving him with no chance to get his hot away.
The result keeps us in third place in the League, but finally laid to rest our faintest of faint title hopes.
The result doesn’t really matter in the long run but gave us more questions than answers for the Manchester United game coming up. Florent Malouda is clearly not in form and looks way off the pace right now. In such a situation his inclusion is not justifiable and doesn’t really help the team.
Carlo Ancelotti accepted the fact that Stoke gave them a tough game, he said; “We made an early mistake so it was difficult to come back into the game but we had a good reaction after conceding the goal.
“We drew [level] and we had the opportunity to go up but we hit the woodwork. We still had the opportunities to score.
“More or less we had the same chances. We hit the post and the bar with Drogba and they did the same. There was a lot of counter-attacking.”
But he was still confident that his team can do the business against Manchester United, he further added; “The players are showing a good physical condition, they are fit. We will do our best to play against [Manchester United].
“It will be a very difficult game. They are one of the best teams in Europe. We know them very well and we need to play this game at our best.”
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