Another Premier League outing, another professional performance from Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side to put them back atop the Premier League table for Christmas.
Chelsea captain John Terry, making his 650th first-team appearance for the club, opened the Blues’ scoring with a powerful header from a Cesc Fabregas corner kick in the 2nd minute. Terry out-dueled Stoke and US national team defender Geoff Cameron for positing near the top of the six-yard-box and beat Asmir Begovic with his far-post header.
Steven N’zonzi nearly equalized for Stoke when his shot form 20 yards out took a fierce deflection off Terry, wrong-footing goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian shot-stopper displayed excellent reflexes in killing all momentum moving to his right and getting low quickly to make the save to his left.
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Diego Costa came inches from doubling Chelsea’s lead in the 31st minute when he timed his run perfectly to beat the Stoke offside trap and stay onside. Fabregas slotted the through ball for Costa who raced in one-on-one with Begovic, but the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard pulled his shot wide of the far post.
Stoke continued playing with fire in the second half, chasing the game and pushing numbers forward in attack, leaving Chelsea the necessary space to get in behind the backline and fashion chances with explosive counter attacks. Mourinho’s men looked quite comfortable dropping a bit further into defense, conceding a bit more possession and trying their luck on the break.
Charlie Adam replaced Cameron after 68 minutes and had an immediate impact for Mark Hughes’ side, nearly equalizing with a low, swerving effort from just outside the penalty area just four minutes after entering the game. N’zonzi squared a ball for the Scottish midfielder whose left-footed shot was always curling away from Courtois but did so inches wide of the post as well.
The Potters were made to pay for Adam’s miss just six minutes later when Fabregas doubled Chelsea’s lead and effectively killed the game off. Eden Hazard started the move by sending in a pacy through ball to Fabregas near the penalty spot. Fabregas’s first touch got away from him, but deflected away from the two Stoke defenders in front of him, creating just enough space for a shot. Fabregas scuffed the ball into the ground, but Begovic had guessed the wrong way and could do little as the ball took its time finding the back of the net at the far post.
Stoke came close to salvaging a late consolation goal as Bojan Krkic fired in a dangerous, dipping ball from 25 yards out, but Courtois watched the ball bounce wide of his righthand post as referee Neil Swarbrick whistled for full time.
The result gives Chelsea (42) the Premier League lead once again, three points ahead of Manchester City, and Manchester United (32) in third. The Premier League returns on Friday for a full slate of Boxing Day fixtures, 10 games made available by NBC Sports (Watch live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)
Stoke City: Begovic, Bardsley, Shawcross, Muniesa, Pieters Cameron, N’zonzi Walters, Bojan, Arnautovic, Crouch
Goals: Terry (2′), Fabregas (78′)
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Matic, Willian, Fabregas, Hazard, Diego Costa