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Salah inspires as Blues temporarily go top


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Chelsea temporarily returned to the top of the Premier League with a convincing win over in-form Stoke City.

After a week of extreme disappointment following away defeats to Crystal Palace and Paris St-Germain in the Champions League, it was pivotal that the Blues addressed their alarming slump in form with a much-needed win.

The visit of Mark Hughes’ Stoke side to Stamford Bridge may, on paper, have seemed a simple assignment for José Mourinho’s men – but three successive league victories for the Potters saw the visitors come into the game with the superior form out of the two sides.

But the ease with which Chelsea dispatched their Midlands opponents, who recorded a shock 3-2 win over the Blues in December’s reverse fixture, will be a welcome reprieve for Mourinho and his under-fire team.

Last weekend’s disappointing showing at Selhurst Park looked to have all but put the Blues out of the title race, but this professional performance will remind Liverpool and Manchester City that Chelsea still may have the last laugh.

Though their stay at the top will be brief – Liverpool travel to face West Ham on Sunday lunch-time knowing that they will supplant the Blues should they avoid defeat – this comprehensive result will only serve to buoy the team’s waning confidence.

The win piles pressure onto fourth-placed Arsenal, who face a difficult trip to Everton tomorrow, but more importantly it will give Chelsea the morale boost they need ahead of Tuesday’s second leg against Paris St-Germain.

With that fixture in mind, Mourinho opted to rest Eden Hazard – the diminutive Belgian’s absence opened up a place in the starting eleven for January signing Mohamed Salah.

And the young Egyptian was crucial in a consummate Chelsea showing; scoring the opener, winning the penalty that allowed Frank Lampard to notch the 250th goal of his club career, and then later setting up the Blues’ third.

Willian, equally excellent, then added a layer of gloss to the scoreline with his first Blues goal at Stamford Bridge - netting a gorgeous curling effort from range, to send the adoring capacity crowd home delighted.

But it was the beleaguered figure of Fernando Torres who had the first real opportunity of the game as he flashed a low drive just wide of Asmir Begovic’s goal. The under-fire Spaniard is without a league goal since mid-January, and he came close to ending that run when his instinctive prod on goal moments later was superbly blocked by the Bosnian goalkeeper.

The chance had materialised when Stoke defender Erik Pieters chested the ball down for his goalkeeper to collect – Torres stole in, but was foiled by Begovic’s brave spread.

Salah himself then went close as his shot from Lampard’s pull-back was comfortably saved, before Begovic, at full stretch, managed to claw away a deflected strike from Willian as the Blues started strongly.

Lampard himself had a shot blocked before Salah opened the scoring. It was Nemanja Matic who assisted the Egyptian as he powered past two defenders before tidily setting up Salah for his second goal in as many home games.

With the goal their assertive start had warranted now secured, Chelsea looked to capitalise and – but for a good call from the linesman – almost had their second as Branislav Ivanovic’s header was chalked off to end premature celebrations.

Hughes made a brace of changes at half-time with Andy Wilkinson and Charlie Adam coming on his side.

The latter made his presence felt just four seconds after his introduction with a foul on Cesar Azpilicueta, whilst Wilkinson enjoyed an equally torrid welcome to the game as he upended Salah for a Chelsea penalty.

Begovic guessed the right way and did well to save Lampard’s effort from the spot-kick, but the England midfielder was first to the follow-up to prod home the landmark goal.

From that point it was a case of how many goals Chelsea would score, but with Tuesday’s European tie clearly in mind, the Blues were a little reserved in their search for more goals.

That attitude did little to stop Mourinho from introducing Hazard from the bench, whilst David Luiz came on to replace goalscorer Lampard with twenty minutes remaining.

Within moments of that change, Salah had fed Willian, who exquisitely curled home Chelsea’s third from 20 yards. It was a glorious, lofted effort into the top corner for the Brazilian’s third Blues goal.

Ashley Cole later came on to a rapturous reception after a six-game enforced absence through injury as Chelsea comfortably played out the final moments to record their seventh win from their last ten league fixtures.

Petr Cech’s shut-out at the opposite end continued his run of eight games at home in succession without conceding. That run, you must feel, surely has to be maintained on Tuesday for the Blues to have any chance of progressing in Europe.

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