Chelsea made it three consecutive away victories to start the Premier League season as Alvaro Morata’s hat-trick inspired Antonio Conte’s side to a comfortable win over an injury-hit Stoke City.
Mark Hughes went into Saturday’s clash at the bet365 Stadium without four recognised central defenders and it took all of 83 seconds for Morata to force a way through the makeshift back-line.
The £60 million summer signing from Real Madrid ran on to a ball over the top to slot home before the visitors doubled their lead on the half-hour when Pedro capitalised on Darren Fletcher’s mistake.
Morata sealed all three points – and his hat-trick – late on, first lofting the ball over Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland and minutes later being on hand to poke home a shot from close-range.
The result sees Chelsea rise back above Tottenham into third in the Premier League, three points behind the Manchester sides at the top, whilst a first home defeat sees Stoke fall down to 15th place.
Who needs Diego Costa?
Whilst Saturday’s newspaper headlines were full of Diego Costa’s return to Atletico Madrid, Chelsea’s summer signing Alvaro Morata continued his fine start to life in the Premier League.
It took all of 83 seconds for the Spaniard to breach Stoke City’s resilience and slot the visitors in front, latching on to a long-ball over the top of the defence to seamlessly finish past Jack Butland.
In doing so it signalled his fourth goal of the Premier League season in six matches – and the first with his feet – before he added a sublime lofted effort and a close-range strike to earn his hat-trick.
It takes Morata’s direct involvement to eight goals in six matches, and there’s only one man in Chelsea history that has been involved in as many in their first six – surprise, surprise, it’s Costa.
The Atletico man went on to find the net 58 times in 120 games in west London, including 20 in the title triumph last year, and it’d be a brave man to bet against Morata eclipsing this tally in the future.
Stoke’s defensive crisis exploited by rampant Blues
The hosts were always likely to be up against it from the opening whistle on Saturday afternoon though, with Mark Hughes’ defensive resources heavily stretched heading into the Chelsea clash.
Ryan Shawcross, Geoff Cameron and Kevin Wimmer were all ruled out due to respective injuries whilst Kurt Zouma, so influential in the opening five games, was ineligible against his parent club.
This meant that Hughes had to ring the changes and bring in Glen Johnson for his first Premier League start of the season, maintaining a 3-4-3 system and shifting Erik Pieters into a central role.
However, they simply had no answer to a rampant Chelsea side, sometimes being the architects of their own downfall, and Hughes will be grateful that Zouma will become available again for Southampton.
Crouch still has his place in the Premier League
With the likes of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Xherdan Shaqiri and Jese Rodriguez all gracing the bet365 Stadium pitch with their presence, Saturday showed there’s still a place for Peter Crouch.
What the ‘new guard’ of Stoke City attackers can offer in flair, creativity and pace is more than matched in Crouch’s old-fashioned threat as a target-man and he caused Chelsea a few problems.
Much like Andy Carroll for West Ham, the 36-year-old’s mere physical presence offers Stoke a different dynamic in attack and when needing a ‘Plan B’ – like they were against the Blues – it’s a real asset.
On another day one of his knock-downs would have ended up in the path of a team-mate and find the back of the net but, whilst it perhaps didn’t quite come together against Chelsea, it just served to prove that Crouch will have a vital role in this Stoke side as the Premier League season rumbles on.