Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blues Show That Their Biggest Strength Is Standing Up to Bullies

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blues Show That Their Biggest Strength Is Standing Up to Bullies

Article excerpt

Byline: Simon Johnson

STOKE 0 CHELSEA 2 CHELSEA have displayed a variety of skills to become this year's Christmas No1.

Jose Mourinho's men have shown they can score goals, play a neat passing game -- with the odd long ball thrown in -- and use some clever gamesmanship on occasion.

Last night, though, they demonstrated possibly the most crucial asset of all -- the ability to stand up to physical intimidation.

For all Stoke's bluster that their tactics have moved on, when facing the big boys they still revert to plan A of kicking the opponent rather than the ball.

On one hand, who can blame them? Arsenal often cower against it as they proved just a fortnight ago in a 3-2 defeat.

But Chelsea demonstrated everything Arsenal are not, which is why they are leading the title race and their London rivals are among the also-rans.

Mourinho's men did not allow themselves to be bullied, nor let Stoke distract them from playing the kind of football which has impressed for much of the campaign.

Try as they might and Phil Bardsley certainly made a late run, literally, for worst tackle of the year with a potentially leg-breaking challenge on Eden Hazard, Stoke could not batter the visitors into submission. Hazard limped off but says he will be okay to face West Ham on Boxing Day. An early header from John Terry settled the nerves, while Cesc Fabregas made the three points secure 12 minutes from time.

Those Chelsea fans with memories of Mourinho's first title triumph 10 seasons ago will recall a similar test of character in a bruising 1-0 victory at Blackburn.

That game finished with the players throwing their shirts into the away end. There was no bare flesh this time, yet Terry's beating of the chest toward the travelling support at the final whistle had similar connotations.

If Chelsea had shown any kind of weakness in front of the TV cameras, other teams may have given Stoke's game-plan a go.

Instead a strong signal of intent was issued, as goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois explained: "We knew the kind of game we were facing. It was always going to be hard physically. It [Stoke's style] is another way of playing football, but we coped very well with it. …

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