Chelsea roadshow strikes right note at Stoke

Posted by Phil Lythell

After yet another thumping victory on their travels, Rafael Benitez must be wishing that Chelsea could play all their games away from home.

Of the nine matches that the Blues have played on the road since the Spaniard's controversial appointment, seven have resulted in a win with only West Ham and Corinthians upsetting the applecart. Benitez and his team seem much more comfortable away from the toxic cauldron of Stamford Bridge where the crowd have been quick to voice their anger at the manager's presence in the dugout and each error or goal conceded pounced upon as evidence of his unsuitability and incompetence. Freed from the tension and recrimination, a certain sense of freedom is imbued in the side and, while few of the seven victories have come without some sort of struggle, the scoring of 23 goals in that time, at an average of greater than three per game, counters the old adage that home is where the heart is.

- Adam, not unlucky Walters, is real culprit

Although some of those wins have come against teams that were there for the taking, such as Championship mid-table residents Leeds United and a weakened Southampton, Chelsea have also managed to end the unbeaten home records of two clubs whose territory most opponents hate visiting. First Everton were turned over and now Stoke City have been vanquished. In both those games the Blues had to dig deep to make sure of the three points.

The initial exchanges aside, Stoke were in the ascendency for the first 20 minutes of the match, denying the visitors time on the ball and penning them in their own half. Yet Chelsea stood firm defensively amid the aerial storm that was summoned with only Kenwyne Jones getting any real sight of goal; the result of some ping-pong on the edge of the area rather than any carefully created move. David Luiz was restored to his usual centre-back position following his sojourn in midfield as Gary Cahill was absent attending the birth of his child and he performed with encouraging solidity alongside Branislav Ivanovic. The Brazilian fronted up to the physical test admirably and avoided those rushes of blood that can often let him down in fractious contests.

With the defence standing tall, any positive result was dependent on those in front of them gaining control and that composure came through the indomitable figure of Frank Lampard. Apart from his uncharacteristically sub-standard display against QPR - where he was far from being the only player out of sorts - the Chelsea legend has been nothing short of superb since his return from injury and he underlined his importance to the team yet again at the Britannia Stadium. After the initial whirlwind was weathered, Lampard began to dictate the tempo and direction of the game with some sumptuous passing that would have drawn applause from the Andrea Pirlo's and Xavi Hernandez's of this world.

Lampard's energy levels ensured that he was always available to receive the pass whether in defence or attack and he made his customary contribution to the scoreline by rifling home a second half penalty to move past Kerry Dixon to stand alone in second place in the all-time list of Chelsea goalscorers. If there was one disappointment it was that he did not get closer to Bobby Tambling's record of 202 goals, Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal performing heroics to deny Lampard what would have been a richly-deserved hat-trick. Once again, he was the best player on the pitch for the umpteenth time in his eleven and a half years at the club, yet he is due to leave Stamford Bridge this summer having somehow been deemed surplus to requirements. Work that one out.

Whether his performance was appreciated by the Stoke supporters though is up for debate. The home crowd betrayed a curious appreciation of the game by voicing apoplectic rage whenever Andy Wilkinson or Ryan Shawcross clearly upended Eden Hazard and his pals, but were equally as vocal when the merest brush on a home player was not whistled up immediately by referee Andre Marriner. Even stranger was their chorus of 'boring, boring' when Chelsea embarked on a passing move that built up to crisp one-touch passing resulting in an excellent chance for Lampard and a smart Begovic save; a passage of play that was surely a glimpse of the 'beautiful game' in action. Not so in Stoke, it seems. The Britannia Stadium faithful are rightly lauded for their passion and decibel-levels though their view on football itself is just as unique.

And finally a word on the unfortunate Jon Walters. A player who is widely admired in the game and among opposition fans for his industry, attitude and undoubted ability had one of those games that all players fear. With two own goals already to his name it was inevitable that he would miss the penalty awarded in the closing moments, yet he was brave enough to step up to take it. The ball may have ended up in the car park rather than the back of the net but there will be nobody in the Potteries giving him too much criticism. He's a credit to his club and this was just a bad day at the office.

But returning to Chelsea, there is some bad news for the Blues - the next two fixtures are at Stamford Bridge. But if they can bring the confidence and freedom that they have displayed with regularity away from home back to their own patch then a couple of wins against Southampton and Arsenal are well within grasp.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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