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Walters derails Blues title bid


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Stoke 1-1 Chelsea

FA Premier League - Saturday 2 April 2011 - Britannia Stadium


Didier Drogba netted his first goal since late January - but it was not enough to continue Chelsea's late push for the title as the Blues were held in the Midlands.

The somewhat expected drop in form following the apparently-cursed Manager and Player of the Month awards for Carlo Ancelotti and David Luiz respectively has seen Stoke's John Walters throw the proverbial spanner in the works after delivering a devastating blow to any harbouring hopes the champions had of retaining their title.

Despite Didier Drogba scoring a magnificent equaliser and then twice thrashing the ball against the frame of the goal, this will surely be seen as two points dropped as opposed to one gained - although it could have been so much worse if not for Blues goalkeeper Petr Cech, who made four superb saves to ensure Chelsea left the Potteries with a share of the spoils.

The result means that the Blues' title hopes have suffered another blow, but in this season of seasons it would be foolish to absolutely rule them out even now. What seemed like a long shot before kick-off seems now like even more of an improbability, but the upcoming clash between Manchester United and Arsenal, and a run of fixtures against teams in the bottom half may see the Blues back in to semi-contention.

11 points is now the gap between league leaders United and Chelsea, who slipped to fourth following Manchester City's demolition of Sunderland on Sunday afternoon. With a game-in-hand, however, the Blues seem likely to finish the season as runners-up considering Arsenal's difficult run-in - which sees them face the likes of United, Bolton, Liverpool and Tottenham before the curtain falls on a topsy-turvy campaign of Premier League football. The only team that has shown a semblance of consistency this season is the aforementioned United; consistently lucky.

The only reason such a margin exists between United and the Blues is because of Saturday's lunchtime result - West Ham 2-4 Manchester United. It's becoming boringly predictable, now, to see United come from 2-0 down. Even more monotonous is the constant ignorance of the FA, who seem to have rubber-stamped Wayne Rooney's title of 'nation's sweetheart.' A blatant habit of disrespect and dissent, coupled with occasional acts of thuggery (such as launching a profanity-filled tirade at a hapless television audience - though of course without punishment) completely overshadows an otherwise-excellent performance by the England man. It is his reputation as 'a bit of a tosser' that will stop him from earning the same sort of worldwide recognition of his England peers. His immaturity also forms part of the excuse why he has failed to live up to his potential.

Either way, Rooney's hat-trick came thanks to Nemanja Vidic. Actually, you could say its thanks to Lee Mason. Having incurred Ferguson's Wrath by giving West Ham two early penalties - both expertly-dispatched - he somehow failed to find his red card in his back pocket and instead produced a yellow. About half-an-hour later he failed to find his cards altogether. Vidic stayed on the pitch, somehow. That's probably because he's the captain of a side managed by Ferguson, and referees are too scared to slightly peeve a man who, refreshingly, isn't afraid to speak his mind. United came back to win the game - credit to them for that - but if you're 2-0 down at half-time and down to 10 men away from home, you certainly aren't going to do much more than attempt to make a game of it after the interval.

The result simply got to Chelsea. In a war of attrition, the Blue psyche had been affected for the first time this season. Having bounced back from what seemed like Europa League obscurity to outside chance of silverware, you would have been forgiven for thinking Chelsea would merely shrug this slight setback off.

Two things saw to Ancelotti's charges dropping points on Saturday - a resilient (and at times unfortunate) Stoke City, and the distraction of the Champions League. Credit where credit is due, first and foremost. Stoke were excellent. In their previous home game they had dismantled Newcastle 4-0, and they sought to continue that run when John Walters skipped past the invisible challenge of Luiz, cut inside the covering Michael Essien and dispatched the ball consummately into the bottom corner. Good goal.

Granted, Chelsea perhaps carried the greatest threat afterwards - as demonstrated when Drogba magnificently turned Nicolas Anelka's cross into the roof of the net with a brilliant header - but Stoke found Petr Cech an otherwise impenetrable barrier. First he denied Jermaine Pennant with his feet before he demonstrated his true qualities. First he turned aside a Matt Etherington header with his feet, before he pulled off a magnificent save to tip Marc Wilson's freekick on to the bar. He did equally well to then turn Robert Huth's header against the woodwork - the world's best goalkeeper had denied Stoke the game's better opportunities.

In the meantime, Drogba efforts had kissed the base of the post and become acquainted with the crossbar at the other end of the field, but the distraction of the Champions League was demonstrated shortly after thanks to unadventurous substitutions on Ancelotti's part. The introduction of Messrs Torres and Kalou did little to spark much of a change, and the like-for-like swap of two rights-backs - Bosingwa (arguably Chelsea's best outfield player alongside Ramires, who was also taken off) for Ivanovic - highlighted that King Carlo was perhaps happy to accept a draw in light of Stoke's unbeaten home record. Adding in the fact they had only dropped four points from winning positions all season prior to the game, and you might agree with Ancelotti that a point is not at all a bad return.

However, for the optimist, it certainly is a bad return. This should have been one of those bankers - the win that triggered a late push for championship contention. Mercifully, a kinder fixture list than most may see Chelsea throw themselves back in to the fold, but it is surely a case of too little, too late. Eight games is not enough to overturn an 11-point gap, but second place would be accepted without complaint. You have to concede that title success was only a minute possibility, but United's luck surely has to run out before long.

This game showed the Champions League is priority numero uno. That is a gamble that could leave Chelsea with egg on their faces in nine days' time. Either way, this result is not a good one for the Blues, whichever way you look at it. Neither is it bad considering Cech's contribution to the game, but three points were a must and now only eight wins from eight and a portion of good luck will see the Blues finish first.


Chelsea (4-4-2): Cech; Bosingwa (Ivanovic 79), Luiz, Terry ©, Cole; Ramires (Kalou 61), Essien, Lampard, Malouda; Anelka (Torres 61), Drogba.

Stoke (4-4-1-1): Begovic; Wilson, Shawcross ©, Huth, Higginbotham (Collins 90+2); Pennant (Fuller 90+1), Whelan (Whitehead 85), Delap, Etherington; Walters, Jones.

The TalkChelsea.net man of the match was Chelsea's number 1, PETR CECH

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Petr's two top-class finger-tip saves within 30 seconds, along with other confident saves, were the highlights of him in this season and gave us a clear answer to the question player of the year. He's been nothing but fantastic.

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Petr's two top-class finger-tip saves within 30 seconds, along with other confident saves, were the highlights of him in this season and gave us a clear answer to the question player of the year. He's been nothing but fantastic.

And yet non-Chelsea fans never appreciate him and don't even consider him as one of the best GK's in the world. Cech is much, much better than Casillas or any other keeper in the world.

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And yet non-Chelsea fans never appreciate him and don't even consider him as one of the best GK's in the world. Cech is much, much better than Casillas or any other keeper in the world.

And once he makes a rare mistake, everyone is having a field day and pointing at him, talking about him in bad. Fuck them. They only envy. It is the same as with Lampard.

Edited by milan.cech
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Good review, i had a bad feeling about this as the Brittania aint a easy place to go at the best of times never mind after an international break.

Hopefully the idiots who bash Stoke's style of play shut up a bit now as they shown against us they can mix it and play some good football despite what idiot gooners say.

Most gutting thing was drooping down to 4th we need the Spuds out of the CL fast.

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