Chelsea vs. Stoke City  1 - 0

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Di Matteo defends Terry, Lampard omissions

22 September 2012 20:51

Roberto Di Matteo defended his decision to drop John Terry and Frank Lampard after Chelsea struggled to a 1-0 win over Stoke on Saturday.

Ashley Cole's first goal for the Blues in over two years sealed an unconvincing win five minutes from time after a stubborn and disciplined Stoke side had frustrated their hosts at Stamford Bridge for long periods.

Both Terry and Lampard were introduced as second-half substitutes, but the narrow nature of the victory meant the Italian's decision to relegate two of his senior stars to the bench was widely questioned.

"We were just utilising the squad," he told reporters.

"We have some good players, and we wanted to bring some fresh ones in.

"We've done it many times before and we'll continue to use the squad, because we play so many games. We don’t want to get to November and be burned out.

"John Terry and Frank Lampard are fantastic. They are two big members of the team, two leaders and they lead by example.

"When they are not involved they support me and support the team, and it's a pleasure for me to have players like that.

"Whenever you play against Stoke, it's always so hard to break them down, because they defend with so many men and they're very well drilled.

"If you get an early goal it helps your game massively. If not, it's just hard work to try and find spaces."

Saturday's match also saw Chelsea field Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar in the same starting line-up for the first time and, while the trio's combinations occasionally hinted at promising things to come, Di Matteo admitted they need more time together on the training pitch to become truly effective.

"It's the first time we have tried them together," he continued.

"It certainly needs more work to be able to tactically integrate them perfectly into our system. They worked well, but it's a question of time and practice for them to get to know each other better."

Di Matteo also dismissed suggestions that Fernando Torres is unhappy, after the Spaniard followed up a petulant reaction to being substituted against QPR with another uninspired display.

"Fernando in a very good mood because he's in a team which is at the top of the league," he insisted.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis blasted Chelsea players Branislav Ivanovic and Oscar for what he felt to be blatant simulation during their clash.

Ivanovic went down easily in the first half under a challenge from Geoff Cameron in the penalty area and escaped a caution, while Oscar was booked for diving later on, and the 54-year-old felt that the Blues' stars' tumbling was 'laughable'.

"What really disappointed me was the simulation. Ivanovic's penalty appeal in the first half was laughable, and the lad Oscar - who's a fabulous player - did something similar in the second half," he told reporters.

"This is England. We can't watch people just fall over and not talk about it. We should highlight it and keep on highlighting it, because it's a part of the game we don’t talk about enough."

While referee Michael Oliver missed Ivanovic's attempted dive, Pulis had kind words for the young official, but he still felt Oliver should have sent off David Luiz after a wild tackle on Stoke striker Jon Walters.

He added: "I thought the referee was smashing today, but they put enormous pressure on him, and it's a difficult enough job anyway.

"(Luiz's tackle) was a dreadful challenge, and I think David would be the first to admit it. He was very lucky to stay on the pitch."

Article

Premier League: Chelsea 1 Stoke 0

22 September 2012 18:10

Chelsea maintained their place at the top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Stoke City at Stamford Bridge.

The visitors looked to have held on for a deserved point until the 85th minute, when Ashley Cole coolly finished from close range to notch his first top-flight strike for two years and keep the Blues on top of the pile.

Brazil starlet Oscar made his first Premier League start for the Blues after his stunning goal-scoring debut in the Champions League in midweek, while Petr Cech took the captain's armband as John Terry and Frank Lampard were consigned to the substitutes' bench.

The hosts began to dictate play from the off, with Stoke seemingly content to get as many men behind the ball as possible while allowing the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar to keep possession so long as they didn't encroach on the penalty area.

Despite their early monopoly of the ball, Chelsea struggled to find a way to break down Tony Pulis' side and were fortunate not go a goal behind on the 20-minute mark. Glen Whelan whipped in a dangerous delivery from a free-kick to the right-hand side, where John Walters ghosted in completely unmarked at the near post and flicked a header goalwards only to see the ball clip the top of the crossbar, with Cech motionless in the middle of his goal.

Chelsea responded with some sustained pressure and Branislav Ivanovic had a shout for a penalty waved away after he turned past Robert Huth in the box, with replays showing he went to ground a little too readily for referee Michael Oliver's liking although there was some contact between the players.

The Blues continued to dictate without finding a way through to Asmir Begovic's goal, until Fernando Torres missed the best chance of the half for the hosts. Juan Mata clipped a simple ball over the top of the back four from the edge of the area, but the Spain striker couldn't quite bring it down on his chest and Begovic was off his line smartly to smother the danger.

Stoke's resilience began to frustrate Roberto Di Matteo's side. David Luiz tried his luck with an ambitious free-kick and Hazard scuffed a cross-come-shot wide of the far post, which only added to the tension around Stamford Bridge.

Indeed, the hosts had Cech to thank for preventing their frustration from growing as the Czech keeper was twice called into action as the half drew to a close. First he denied Marc Wilson from long-range as Chelsea failed to close him down, before diving smartly to save from Michael Kightly's header after good interplay between Peter Crouch and Geoff Cameron.

Chelsea started the second half brightly and were denied another appeal for a penalty when Oscar burst through the middle before going down under a challenge from Huth.

The Blues continued their assault, though, with first Oscar and then Torres being denied by the Begovic, before Crouch attempted a spectacular volley at the other end which sailed over the bar as Stoke tried to regain a foothold in the match.

Mata thought he had finally found a way through after some brilliant interplay between Oscar and Moses, but a terrific last-ditch tackle from Ryan Shawcross denied him at the near post.

Both sides continued to look lively going forward going into the final period of the game. First John Obi Mikel wasted a great chance as he dragged his shot wide of Begovic's left-hand post following Torres' pass, before substitutes Michael Owen and Kenwyne Jones combined to tee up Matthew Etherington inside the area, who likewise fluffed his lines.

It was a miss which Etherington and Stoke would ultimately rue, however, as Chelsea finally broke the deadlock with just five minutes remaining.

Cole burst forward with the ball from the edge of his own area and continued into the box after laying off to substitute Lampard. He found Hazard, whose cross went beyond Mata and Cole was left to dink the ball over Begovic from just six yards out to the relief of the home fans inside the Bridge.

Stoke tried to rally in the closing minutes but Chelsea held on for all three points, keeping them top of the Premier League pile and putting pressure on the Manchester clubs ahead of their huge respective clashes against Liverpool and Arsenal on Sunday.

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Premier League preview: Chelsea v Stoke

20 September 2012 13:14

They may top the Premier League standings, but Chelsea will be desperate to return to winning ways when they host Stoke City on Saturday.

After draws in their past two starts against Juventus and Queens Park Rangers, a matchup with Stoke offers the perfect opportunity for the Blues to flex their muscle.

Recent history is well and truly on their side.

Stoke have only scored three goals in eight Premier League meetings with Chelsea and have failed to score in each of their past four visits to Stamford Bridge in all competitions.

In their last 10 games against Stoke, Chelsea have won eight and drawn twice.

High on Robert Di Matteo's wish list will be an improved showing from striker Fernando Torres.

With Didier Drogba gone, much of the team's potency rests on the shoulders of Torres who struggled last weekend against QPR, blundering chances to score both in each half.

The Blues will be sweating on the fitness of Brazilian midfielder Oscar who marked his first Chelsea start with a first half brace in the Champions League before limping off after half-time with an ankle injury.

For Stoke, they travel to Stamford Bridge still unbeaten, but yet to win, after drawing their first four league games for the first time in their history.

Tony Pulis' side have some important momentum after claiming a point off reigning champions Manchester City last weekend but know it won't get any easier against Chelsea.

For them to win, Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters must have a solid game up front, and the Stoke defenders must keep Torres quiet.

Pulis admits Stoke must improve vastly on their effort at the Britannia Stadium against City where he said they lacked intensity and were lucky to snare a point.

"I think we will get better. It will be nice to have them next week and work with them," Pulis told reporters.

"We still need to retain our commitment and organisation but we have to retain the ball better when we do get it. There were times when we were giving it away too cheaply."

Premier League table

# Team MP D P
1 38 +43 89
2 38 +32 78
3 38 +36 75
4 38 +35 73
5 38 +20 72
6 38 +15 63
7 38 +28 61
8 38 -4 49
9 38 -4 46
10 38 -8 46
11 38 -17 44
12 38 -10 43
13 38 -11 42
14 38 -11 41
15 38 -22 41
16 38 -23 41
17 38 -13 39
18 38 -26 36
19 38 -30 28
20 38 -30 25