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Cesc Fabregas Offers Chelsea Festive Joy In Feisty Win At Stoke

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THE portents are promising for Chelsea and ominous for their rivals. This is the fourth time that Chelsea have enjoyed the view from the top of the Premier League come Christmas Day and on each of the previous occasions they have gone on to win the title. John Terry’s header after only 95 seconds, followed by a second-half goal from Cesc Fàbregas, secured their place at the summit and restored their three-point advantage over Manchester City.

It was, in short, a much happier experience for José Mourinho than 12 months ago when his Chelsea side were beaten 3-2 here and the Portuguese departed bemoaning their failure to “kill the game”. Fàbregas’ corner had set up Terry’s opener to take his tally of assists for the season to 12 – Thierry Henry’s Premier League record of 20 in a single campaign looks to be under serious threat – and the Spaniard ensured there would be no slip-up this time when his mishit shot found its way into the bottom corner.

The performance, as well as the result, reinforced the impression that Chelsea possess all the qualities to stay the course. Diego Costa could afford to have an off night on an evening when Fàbregas showed some lovely touches in midfield, Eden Hazard stood up to Phil Bardsley’s early attempts to rough him up and Nemanja Matic was the outstanding player on the pitch.

Terry was not getting carried away when he described Matic as a “revelation” this season.

It was hard not to contrast Chelsea’s commanding display with the way Arsenal imploded here this month. With Matic a formidable presence in front of the resolute central-defensive partnership of Terry and Gary Cahill, Stoke were restricted to few goalscoring opportunities while at the other end of the pitch Chelsea looked threatening whenever they attacked. For Mourinho, it was a highly satisfactory night’s work.

“It’s a victory that means a bit more than the three points, not just because it’s difficult but also because to win here you need to put more than just your quality,” he said. “The players were a team, they worked together and coped well with a difficult style.”

The Chelsea manager was full of praise for Terry, who has now scored in each of the past 15 Premier League seasons. “More important than the goal for me is the way he’s playing this season,” Mourinho said. “When I came here last season he was a bit in trouble, his career was a bit up and down, not playing regular for Chelsea. Certainly in the last two years he’s playing basically every game and for me at the same level he was playing in 2004-07 when I was here. I think he knows the way I trust him, I think he feels very confident, very happy and he’s playing very well.”

That goal, when Terry got ahead of Geoff Cameron to dispatch Fàbregas’s corner, got Chelsea off to the perfect start. Stoke looked rather flat in the early stages and it was not until after Bardsley clattered into Hazard on the touchline, earning a yellow card that could easily have been red, that the home team roused.

Mourinho was furious with Bardsley’s challenge at the time and became embroiled in an angry exchange with the Stoke manager Mark Hughes, but he was much more restrained when he spoke afterwards.

“From my position, and in a flash, it looks a red card,” Mourinho said. “But I don’t know. What I know is that if it was a bad tackle it was the only one. The game was clean, good and aggressive. The referee kept the game under control and the players were fair.”

Stoke enjoyed their best period of the game around the midway point of the second half, when they started to apply a little pressure and Charlie Adam’s raking drive drifted inches wide, but Chelsea’s second goal of the evening extinguished any hopes that Hughes had of salvaging a point.

Hazard, who had sportingly kicked the ball out of play when Bardsley was down injured not long after the Stoke right-back had put him into touch – “I wouldn’t do it for a guy who kicked me,” Mourinho said, smiling – picked out Fàbregas in the Stoke penalty area.

The Spaniard’s first touch was heavy and his shot was anything but convincing, but it bobbled past Asmir Begovic and into the net. Costa then squandered his second one-on-one of the evening. Not that it mattered. – The Guardian

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