In the 13th minute, Stoke’s pressing left Marcos Alonso open and the former Fiorentina man galloped down the left before winning a free kick in a crossing position. Or so Lee Grant thought; instead, Willian whipped in a clever shot that squirmed just inside his near post.
Just as against West Ham, Chelsea scored with their first real attack but despite occasionally threatening a second, with Alonso stinging Grant’s palms after latching onto a brilliant Victor Moses dink through the Stoke defence, Conte’s side never appeared fully comfortable or in control.
Stoke thought they had equalised in the 33rd minute when Bruno Martins Indi powered a header beyond Thibaut Courtois, only for Saido Berahino to be penalised for a push on Cesar Azpilicueta in the build up. Yet they were made to wait just four more minutes for their goal: Jonathan Walters tempted Gary Cahill into a push in the penalty area before lashing in the spot-kick himself.
Chelsea’s greatest second-half threat came in the form of Pedro’s direct running. Then, Fabregas was finally introduced on 70 minutes and made a key contribution as Chelsea summoned their champions’ resolve to find a late winner. David Luiz met an in-swinging Fabregas corner with a header that Erik Pieters could only touch into the path of Cahill, who fired in to redeem his penalty mistake.
Stoke’s misery was compounded when Phil Bardsley was shown a second yellow for catching the Spaniard late in the final seconds. And even on days when the “fantasy” of Hazard deserts them, Chelsea’s dream season goes on unhindered.
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