Monday, 15 August 2011
Match Report: Stoke 0 Chelsea 0
Stoke held Chelsea to a frustrating goalless draw as their resolute defensive performance kept the visitors' attacking talents at bay. Fernando Torres was Chelsea's sharpest player during a quiet first half as Stoke were limited to set-piece scraps. The Blues improved in the second half and John Obi Mikel went close before substitute Nicolas Anelka's shot was tipped onto the bar by Asmir Begovic. In a game of few chances, Chelsea will also point to three penalty appeals. Marc Wilson's trip on Frank Lampard was the most credible of those but they were a long way short of their form from the beginning of last season, when they began the campaign with two 6-0 wins. The result will also call into question Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas's decision to start with Torres instead of Didier Drogba. For periods of the game, however, there were instances when it looked like the confidence had returned to the Spaniard's game and he was certainly among the better performers. The striker's link-up play was sharp, plus he was willing to make intelligent runs into space to receive the ball, and his growing influence was underlined when Ryan Shawcross hacked down the 27-year-old for a deserved booking. But there were only glimpses of any urgency from Torres's team-mates as Stoke, who handed a Premier League debut to Jonathan Woodgate, defended stoically. Jose Bosingwa went close with what looked like a cross which was heading for the top corner, but Villas-Boas appeared agitated on the sidelines, not only by his side's lack of penetration but also Stoke's muscular threat from Rory Delap's long throw-ins. Ramires tried to inject some energy from midfield when he burst into the box but his cross whistled across the six-yard line, and Torres made a weaving run before a timely Shawcross tackle prevented him from shooting. The former Liverpool striker had a penalty shout at the start of the second half when Shawcross appeared to trip him on the edge of the box and it began a period in which Chelsea began to impose themselves at last. First, Torres failed to connect following John Terry's header from a corner, Lampard had another penalty shout when he appeared to be brought down, and Mikel almost scored his first Premier League goal for Chelsea when his dipping strike was tipped over. Florent Malouda was replaced by Anelka and his rising shot was expertly tipped onto the bar by Begovic, while Salomon Kalou had a header saved from Torres's cross. Drogba was then introduced, to cheers from the Chelsea fans, and fired a dangerous free-kick at goal. Yet as Stoke held firm, the visitors appeared to become frustrated as the game entered the final stages, with Lampard picking up an uncharacteristic booking. Potters boss Tony Pulis cautioned before the game that expectations may be too high at the Britannia this season, but on this evidence they will once again be one of the Premier League's tougher opponents. His only worry was the shoulder injury to Matthew Etherington, who was taken off after an hour. Pulis said the winger would go for an x-ray.