Chelsea cemented their position at the top of the tree for Christmas after a battling win over a physical Stoke side at the Britannia Stadium. John Terry scored early on in the game, before Cesc Fabregas added a second goal with just over 10 minutes to go. That win puts the Blues three points clear of City once more, after the champions won 3-0 against Crystal Palace at the weekend.
Jose Mourinho made changes to his team selection to prevent a repeat of the 3-2 defeat they suffered at Stoke last year. John Obi Mikel came in alongside Nemanja Matic in a deeper midfield role, targeting Bojan and cutting off service to him. Aside from that, it was the usual team, with Thibaut Courtois replacing Petr Cech in goal.
The team hit the ground running, getting on the front foot from the first whistle. As always at Stoke, questions were asked about how the visitors would deal with set pieces, but the Blues scored from a corner themselves after just 95 seconds. Cesc Fabregas got yet another assist, delivering the corner, and John Terry rose to meet it on his 650th appearance for the Blues.
That goal edged the visitors ahead, and they then went on to control most of the play from that point. Mourinho got animated on the touchline at the referee twice, after he got in the way of a quick counter attack, and after he gave Phil Bardsley just a yellow card for a thumping tackle on Eden Hazard. Despite that, he will have gone in happy at the break, with his side leading 1-0.
Stoke had more of the game in the second half, but they couldn’t work a real chance. Thibaut Courtois dealt with the aerial threat of Stoke well, and this kind of game was made for him given his height and confidence from set pieces. The league leaders had their defence put through their paces, and they came out of this one looking in good shape.
The Mikel and Matic combination worked well, and that allowed Cesc Fabregas to play further forward in the number 10 role. That paid off for him, as he got his name on the score sheet. Eden Hazard was the provider, he found Cesc in the box, and his mis-control actually took him in to space before he found the net. It wasn’t the typical goal that the former Barcelona man has been involved in, but it was a crucial one.
The Blues held on to win 2-0, keeping them top of the tree this Christmas. Despite the performances of Fabregas and Terry, the star was no doubt Matic. He was in fantastic form, breaking up play and denying the home side space. The Blues have been top of the Premier League table on Christmas Day on three occasions, and they won the league every time. That’s should make Christmas Day more enjoyable for Mourinho and his men, but the hard work starts again on Boxing Day against West Ham.
LCN Man of the Match: Nemanja Matic