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New Blues era begins in frustrating style


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EtheringtonKalou_2635983.jpgStoke 0-0 Chelsea

New Blues era begins in frustration

Andre Villas-Boas’ reign as Chelsea coach got off to a frustrating start as his Chelsea side were held to a goalless draw with Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.

Chelsea were the dominant side and played some excellent football at times despite the awkward circumstance of a particularly difficult opening fixture. Having already amassed 180 minutes of competitive action this term through Europa League qualifiers, Stoke were quick out of the starting blocks and defended manfully throughout the match, limiting Chelsea to only a handful of goalscoring opportunities – a fact which ultimately belies the London club’s dominance of the game.

Perhaps the fairest result, Stoke will feel relieved to have survived a torrent of Chelsea attacks in the second half, whilst at the same time causing last season’s Premier League runners-up a number of problems, most notably through their set piece prowess and the Rory Delap long-throw ploy.

Nevertheless, considering the Blues’ dominance of possession and having the lion’s share of scoring chances, this will feel like two points dropped – and with the two Manchester clubs facing less troublesome opposition, Villas-Boas looks set to be playing catch-up from hereon-in even this early on.

Ahead of the match, pragmatic Chelsea fans will have given a lot of respect to the Potters, who have added to their reputation as an established Premier League side after a promising 2010/11 season. A fine run to the FA Cup final has earned the club the opportunity to once again experience European competition; a venture that has thus-far been a successful one thanks to a 2-0 aggregate win over Hajduk Split in their latest brace of qualifiers. Meanwhile, manager Tony Pulis has re-shaped his team to ensure a greater emphasis on the flair of wingers Matthew Etherington and Jermain Pennant, adding creativity to the workman-like efficiency of their midfield engine.

Ultimately, this game will be remembered as a match where Chelsea were denied by some exceptional goalkeeping by Asmir Begovic, a one-time target for the Blues, and some questionable officiating by referee Mark Halsey. Chelsea were denied a whole host of decisions, including penalty claims and turned-down demands for free-kicks as Stoke’s physical approach almost handed to their own undoing. That being said, the FA Cup finalists played manfully and would have been hard-done-by if they had have gone on to lose the match.

Considered to be one of the hardest places to go in England’s top division, even Spanish giants Barcelona would have struggled against a well-marshalled defence that saw Jonathan Woodgate make a sound début appearance alongside Ryan Shawcross at centre-back. After seeing his side draw with the Blues last campaign back in April thanks to a 3-5-2 system, Pulis again elected to flood the midfield to stifle the Chelsea midfield trio of Frank Lampard, John Mikel Obi and the exceptional, effervescent Ramires.

That tactic seemed to work early on, as high pressure enabled the hosts to dictate the tempo during the opening exchanges. A flurry of set-pieces, including corners and Delap’s trademark slingshot throw-ins bombarded the Chelsea area, but goalkeeper Petr Cech – who enjoyed one of his finest-ever displays between the posts for the club back in that 1-1 draw last term – looked to continue where he left off with another dominating performance.

A stalemate of sorts was met with both sides boasting extreme defensive rigidity early on. Thankfully, considering the absence of Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz, Alex was excelling for Chelsea alongside John Terry, as the Blues sought to establish a foothold in a competitive encounter. Shawcross saw himself enter the book early on after a shocking hack at Fernando Torres, whilst the first meaningful effort of note saw Jose Bosingwa’s cross parried behind by Begovic.

A bustling and full-blooded performance from both sides was having a negative impact on the game’s quality as both sides seemed incapable of creating opportunities through means other than direct approach play. This was particularly truthful of Stoke, who created next to nothing beside the multitude of mêlées inside the Chelsea box that followed each Delap throw into the mixer. Chelsea were finding it hard to express themselves through fairer means, but Fernando Torres was looking as sharp as ever up front.

An immediate improvement on his performances of last term, Torres was dictating the play and orchestrating the majority of what few chances Chelsea were creating. Though he would end the match goalless, it was a performance that came with a message, as his speed, movement, agility and creativity showed signs of a return to their past deadly standards.

He was involved heavily with the first real chance carved out by Chelsea, as he combined well with the impressive Bosingwa to feed Lampard, but the England star’s cross into the six yard box was headed away by Shawcross with Malouda lurking menacingly. Torres then took it on himself to launch a drive just wide of the target as he fought on to justify his selection by the Chelsea boss, before the last action of the half saw the Spaniard again denied at the death by Shawcross as he demonstrated superb technique to weave his way into the area.

Whilst it was being let down by a lack of goalscoring opportunities, the game was simmering nicely as a contest. The early cat-and-mouse game that had resulted in possession often being conceded to the other side and promising build-ups suddenly breaking down was exchanged for a far more open encounter after the interval, with both sides clearly believing to have the measure of the other.

And early Chelsea pressure should have paid rich dividends, but for Torres to be upended in the area without any interest from the referee. Replays indicated that there was indeed a tangle of legs, but it would have been harsh to have awarded the spot kick. Nevertheless, penalties have been given for less in the past – but Chelsea fans would have noted this as the expected result of penalty claims at the opposite end turned down by the referee despite John Terry’s inadvertent handball inside the area. It was one half-hearted penalty call apiece turned down.

A combination of foul and fair, of swiping boot and outstretched glove then denied Chelsea the lead. First, Lampard was blatantly hacked down by Marc Wilson, but unbelievably, the referee again decided not to award a penalty to Villas-Boas’ side. In the aftermath of that decision, John Mikel Obi saw a wonderfully-struck volley tipped over by Begovic. It was to be the clearest indication that this was not to be Chelsea’s day afterall – with both Halsey and the Stoke goalkeeper working in tandem to keep the scores level.

Suddenly the chances were coming thick and fast. Nicolas Anelka was introduced to the action as Villas-Boas spied a weak link in the Stoke armour. The next shot on target was from Malouda, rifling powerfully into the midriff of the keeper with an ambitious drive from distance. Stoke then lost both Etherington and Delap to injury midway through the half, and with that, their greatest elements of flair and threat disappeared.

The match was suddenly becoming more and more one-sided, with Chelsea besieging the hosts’ goal. Anelka then saw his effort wonderfully patted on to the bar by Begovic; the fully-extended Bosnian turning Anelka’s goalbound chip against the woodwork. Salomon Kalou then headed too close to the ex-Portsmouth stopper as he continued to frustrate the Chelsea side.

Villas-Boas responded by introducing Drogba to the action, yet except for a brace of freekicks that posed little trouble to Begovic’s goal, the urgency that compelled Chelsea forward seemed to dissipate as fitness soon became an issue. The Blues were the only side interested in pressing the issue, but with ten men behind the ball, Stoke’s defence held firm; their thankfully infrequent brand of anti-football continued to frustrate their illustrious guests. Ramires drove a shot well wide and Drogba tried his best to inflict some further attacking invention, but it was a case of too little, too late.

The final whistle offered respite for Stoke, but the Blues’ lack of cutting edge had let them down once more. Denied victory only by one inspired performance and another truly shocking one, the brilliant Begovic demonstrated why Chelsea should have signed him when they had the chance, whilst Mark Halsey played the role of Stoke’s 12th man with gusto.

Any point at the Britannia is a good one, and only a fool would have expected an easy game at this level, let alone against an established side already boasting competitive match practice this season. A better way to gauge the team will come with next weekend’s visit of West Brom to Stamford Bridge; the side Chelsea demolished 6-0 on the opening day of last season.

Kinder opposition poses the next threat to Chelsea’s title tilt – a hat-trick of wins against the aforesaid West Brom, Norwich and Sunderland will see confidence improve as the Blues look to make it an impressive four Premier League titles in eight seasons. Be mindful that there are plenty of positives to be taken from this difficult fixture, including the performances of Ramires, Torres, Petr Cech and the whole Chelsea backline – and at least we can laugh at Liverpool.

Stoke (3-5-2): Begovic; Huth, Shawcross, Woodgate; Wilson, Pennant, Whelan, Delap (Pugh 70), Etherington (Whitehead 62); Jones (Shotton 85), Walters

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry ©, Cole; Ramires, Mikel, Lampard, Kalou (Drogba 75), Torres (Benayoun 88), Malouda (Anelka 65)

The TalkChelsea.net MAN OF THE MATCH was Chelsea’s #7: RAMIRES

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The atmosphere inside the stadium was bloody mental, like always there tbh so it was great to hear our fans well as well. It's a pity we didn't score a goal because if we did, everyone of us would be screaming hell a lot. If Nando performs like today against WBA and Norwich, I will have no doubts about him scoring at least a brace.

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Frustating but could've been even worse.

Loving the new Torres! Hope he keeps it up and this doesnt dent his confidence.He just ran and didnt give up or have the lost boy look on his face

Ref though..why do we end up with the shit ones?! Some penalty appeals werent but there were a couple that were...guess he's saving them for when he does a Man U game

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Alex was my man of the match, solid as usual.

Mikel was more attack minded than he's been in a while which was encouraging to see, a high defensive line allowed for this to happen. Risky ploy, but Terry & Alex are quick and tough so they did well to cope.

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Guest justin_3d

To tell you the truth, it's better to start like this then all guns blasting.

Cause if we had won 5 or 7 to 0 like last year, we would forget that problems we had and think we are good enough to go with the squad we had.

With this performance, AVB and the board has no excuse to know that they need 2 new players in.

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To tell you the truth, it's better to start like this then all guns blasting.

Cause if we had won 5 or 7 to 0 like last year, we would forget that problems we had and think we are good enough to go with the squad we had.

With this performance, AVB and the board has no excuse to know that they need 2 new players in.

Good point there!And the thing is as well last year some fans seemed to expect to win 6-0 every game after our two opening ones and seemed to moan when we didnt so blessing in a way really...long as it dont countinue mind

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To tell you the truth, it's better to start like this then all guns blasting.

Cause if we had won 5 or 7 to 0 like last year, we would forget that problems we had and think we are good enough to go with the squad we had.

With this performance, AVB and the board has no excuse to know that they need 2 new players in.

If you look at our recent history, we do better during the season when we do worse on the opening day if that makes sense.

04/05 Start with a 1-0 win, Champions

05/06 Start with a 1-0 win, Champions

06/07 Start with a 3-0 win, runners up

07/08 Start with a 3-2 win, runners up

08/09 Start with a 4-0 win, 3rd place

09/10 Start with a 2-1 win, Champions

10/11 Start with a 6-0 win, runners up

11/12 Start with a 0-0 draw

So history suggest's the worse we do on day one, the better our season ends up, lets hope its the case again.

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If you look at our recent history, we do better during the season when we do worse on the opening day if that makes sense.

04/05 Start with a 1-0 win, Champions

05/06 Start with a 1-0 win, Champions

06/07 Start with a 3-0 win, runners up

07/08 Start with a 3-2 win, runners up

08/09 Start with a 4-0 win, 3rd place

09/10 Start with a 2-1 win, Champions

10/11 Start with a 6-0 win, runners up

11/12 Start with a 0-0 draw

So history suggest's the worse we do on day one, the better our season ends up, lets hope its the case again.

It's only 3 against 4 lol... one of the most pointless statistics to cling to. It's 38 games, not 1.

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Thanks for the comments.

Enjoyed the read especially the part about laughing at Liverpool.

How do you stay so calm when you write these up???

Writing dispassionately is something I've had a lot of practice at... but sometimes my head gets the better of me, for example when we beat United 2-1 in March.

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pre match I said a draw wouldn't be a bad result .. still feel that although I think our performance deserved

all 3 points .. Impressed with the way our defence withstood their long ball and long throw attacks .

seeing the pitch it looks as if they have narrowed it to the minimum allowed and maximised the run up areas for

Delap ...Within the laws of course but a sad indictment of their ambition. finally again an excellent fair and

balanced report ... My 3 for MOM ... Torres ,,,Ramires ..Cech

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Decent introduction to the big time for AvB. It was always going to be hard at Stoke and they showed just why.

They started off brightly and pushed us back into our half without ever really threatening a goal. The ball was up in the air for most of the first half and the niggly little fouls and stoppages made for a frustrating 45 mins. I thought we dealt with their aerial threat very well indeed. Set pieces were the only way they could hurt us and it was obvious we were well prepared, our organisation in dead ball situations was efficient. Going forward, we were a tad disappointing, especially down the channels where we lost the ball often and Torres was made to plough alone.

Second half was much, much better. Urgency in passing, terrific ball retention and intelligent movement and link up play in the second and third sectors. Only one team played and the other merely committed fouls and hoofed hopeful long balls forward. Such a shame the ref ignored two blatant penalty shouts. How Shawcross completed the game is beyond me, he is a very lucky boy indeed. I thought the second half showed us what AvB and his style is all about. Relentless pursuit of the lost ball, crisp and purposeful circulation to the front men and sturdy defensive work throughout.

Ratings:

Cech - 6.5 - Didn't have much to do but reliable when dealing with set pieces and crosses. Liked his forays into the sweeper role.

Bosingwa - 5.5 - A let down. Was obviously given freedom to attack, but rarely made it count. Ran fast in a straight line like we know he can, and put in half-hearted crosses, like we know he does.

Alex - 7.5 - Very assured, composed, mature performance. Shepherded the defence very well and dealt with Jones without many hassles.

Terry - 6 - Steady without being spectacular. Walters got the better of him a couple of times but luckily Alex had his back.

Cole - 6 - Lapses in concentration in the first half, but wasn't made to pay for it. More forward thinking after the break but his positional discipline left something to be desired today.

Ramires - 7.5 - Great start to the season for Rambo. High energy as always and head and shoulders above every midfielder on the pitch.

Lampard - 6.5 - Shades of his former self. Some intelligent passes and passages of play, but nowhere near the Lamps we know. Should have had a peno.

Mikel - 7 - Aside from that botched clearance that might have put us in trouble in the first half, hardly put a foot wrong. The majestic volley deserved a goal. Tackled well and was confident while going forward in the second half.

Kalou - 2 - Shambles. No other word for him.

Malouda - 5 - Another poor outing. Disappeared for large parts of the game and wasn't worth watching when he had the ball.

Torres - 8 - MOTM for us. This is the Nando we thought we'd bought back in Jan. Did all the dirty work alone upfront without any complaints. Was let down by the two others alongside him but not once did he sulk or let his shoulders droop. Fantastic energy and commitment to the cause. Set others up as well, unlucky not to get on the sheet. Should have had a peno as well. Led the line admirably.

Anelka - 4.5 - Waste of space. Had that one moment when he chipped it and Begovic turned it onto the bar but apart from that, difficult to know whether he was on the pitch at all.

Drogba - 5 - Didn't do much. His freekicks should have been better.

Banayoun - N.A

Overall, can't quite complain too much. Unlucky to only draw when the 3 points would have been ensured by a more competent ref. Still, more positives than negatives and AvB will walk away knowing he got most things right today. A hard fought draw is also a handy reminder that there is a lot to be set right with this team, something a big win would have papered over.

And oh, nice report as usual, BL.

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At least against Norwich I hope McEachran gets plenty of time, at least 70 minutes ;) Ramires, McEachran and Mikel midfield would be exciting, with Torres flanked by Benayoun and Anelka/Malouda.

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