How Chelsea coped with Stoke targeting Diego Costa and why Eden Hazard can't return soon enough

Ben Findon
The Telegraph
Gary Cahill celebrates his late winner - 2017 Getty Images
Gary Cahill celebrates his late winner - 2017 Getty Images

A testing afternoon for Diego Costa

Five days after Manchester United had paid particularly close attention to Eden Hazard, Diego Costa found himself on the end of similarly systematic treatment from the Stoke rearguard. He clashed with Ryan Shawcross in the first minute and Bruno Martins Indi and Phil Bardsley were also to the fore as Stoke players took it in turns to dish it out. Costa did not help himself with some exaggerated reactions, one of which brought a yellow card,  though he deserves credit for better discipline during the second half.

How did Chelsea cope without Eden Hazard?

Pedro brings plenty of industry but is hardly in the same same bracket as the mercurial Belgian - few are, of course - and with Costa having his personal battles to fight, Chelsea looked down on attacking invention. Manager Antonio Conte would certainly be expecting a greater contribution from flying wing-backs Marco Alonso and Victor Moses.

<span>Diego Costa clashed with&nbsp;Bruno Martins Indi</span>
Diego Costa clashed with Bruno Martins Indi

How effective was Stoke's game plan?

For the second game in succession, Stoke manager Mark Hughes devised a plan that proved highly effective. Manchester City were left frustrated in a goalless draw at the Etihad earlier this month and Stoke certainly gave Chelsea one of their tougher afternoons of the campaign even if it ended in late heartbreak.

Costa was quickly unsettled and the home side's discipline, competitiveness, industry and ability to work up a noisy home crowd meant Chelsea knew they had been in a battle.

Who was man of the match?

Willian was full of intelligent running and artful passing, the best attacker on display. And he crowned all this with the clever free-kick that deceived Lee Grant for Chelsea's opening goal.

<span>Willian (R) is congratulated after his goal</span>
Willian (R) is congratulated after his goal

What the sides must work on

Stoke:Although goalkeeper Lee Grant has generally performed solidly during the long-term absence of the injured Jack Butland, this was not one of his better afternoons. Willian's free-kick should never have been allowed to creep in at his near post, and he was nearly embarrassed by David Luiz's speculative 35-yarder after the break. 

Chelsea:It is unclear how long Antonio Conte's side will be without Hazard but his playmaking talents - and finishing ability - were missed despite this victory. The manager will be tweaking his formation and tactics to supply a more creative edge over the international break.

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