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MOTD: Stoke City 1-1 Chelsea (5-4 on pens)
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea endured a miserable rainy Tuesday night in Stoke as the reigning Capital One Cup champions exited the competition on penalties at the Britannia Stadium. The Blues dominated large periods of the match, only for Jonathan Walters’ second half goal on the break to give Stoke the lead. Loic Remy’s stoppage time equalizer could only extend Chelsea’s title defense for another half hour, with Jack Butland saving Eden Hazard’s penalty to end a perfect shootout at Chelsea’s fifth spot-kick.
The loss was in keeping with Chelsea’s dreadful start to the season and was their third loss in their past six games in all competitions. Mourinho has dealt with many woes over the past few months and in a wider trend, increased his dismal penalty shootout record as a manager — his sixth loss in seven. Tonight’s shootout was a carbon copy of Mourinho’s last edition, a 5-4 loss to Bayern Munich in the European Super Cup two years ago. It was his first match in his second term in charge of The Blues.
Marti Perarnau tells the story of that particular shootout in his book “Pep Confidential.” Before the shootout, Guardiola told his players that he’s never taken a penalty in his life and handed the responsibility of managing the shootout to his assistant manager, Manel Estiarte, a penalty-expert in his days as a Water Polo player. Then and there, the players had to decide which way they’d shoot and stick to it. Bayern scored all five of their penalties.
Chelsea, meanwhile, looked more disorganized in their huddle. Mourinho was filmed approaching Lukaku and clearly asking if he is comfortable with taking a penalty. Lukaku gives small nod in response. Chelsea, too, made their first four penalties and all the marbles were on the shoulders of Lukaku after Xherdan Shaqiri had put Bayern back in the lead. The ex-Chelsea man fidgeted nervously and saw his tame, low effort easily saved by Manuel Neuer after an awkward run up.
“I have lost so many times and I did everything: the team practiced, the team did not practice; I analyzed opponents for years – the percentage of where they take the penalties, percentage of where the goalkeeper goes or not goes; and I don’t do this, I do it by instinct,” Mourinho said that night. “We did everything we could do. Nothing you can do, man, nothing.”
The Portuguese manager will feel a vivid sense deja vu tonight as Shaqiri stepped up to take Stoke’s third penalty following four successful efforts. He coolly beat Petr Cech with a nearly perfect effort and Loic Remy continued the streak by arrowing his spot-kick into the upper ninety. Oscar and Peter Odemwingie both buried their efforts before Hazard, usually cool as ice on the spot, saw his waste-height effort brilliantly tipped over the crossbar.
As Mourinho increasingly comes under fire, critics would argue that this might just bring the manager’s Chelsea career full-circle. But the gaffer assured reporters that he’d sleep well tonight, saying, per Chelsea’s official website: “I have a day off tomorrow, a fantastic family, I can sleep well every night, I will enjoy my day off and Thursday will be one more day like those I had in the last 15 years of my life: honest and dedicated.”
He will be encouraged witnessing a whiff, however brief scent amid the damp rain, of Chelsea’s title winning form form last season within his side’s character tonight. “What the players did tonight was face some people who have written and spoken [about them] and said: you are stupid,” Mourinho remarked.
Oscar and Hazard probed in and beyond Stoke’s back-line throughout the first half and Diego Costa forced Butland into a near post save from stabbed effort. Stoke, however, looked dangerous on the break and Mame Biram Diouf’s low effort was comfortably saved by Asmir Begovic, before Stoke nearly took the lead, with Marc Muniesa’s acrobatic overhead-kick deflecting onto the roof of the net. It was only on the brink of the half that Begovic was forced into his first meaningful stop, though, denying Jonathan Waters’ point-blank range effort from Diouf’s cross.
On the other side of the half, Stoke found the back of the net as Walters sliced a beautiful volley from the edge of the penalty area in off the crossbar.
Yet the Blues continued to push forward in search of an equalizer and Willian curled a free-kick over the crossbar. Zouma smacked the post but just as Chelsea stared down the throat of defeat, Remy snatched a late equalizer from a corner, going unmarked at the far post in an uncharacteristic defensive lapse from Stoke. To make matters worse for the home side, Phillip Bardsley saw a second yellow card for an unsavory tackle moments later.
Chelsea took the momentum into extra-time and Hazard flashed a low effort wide of the post. Butland’s full-stretch save from Kenedy’s late effort was enough to tip the match into penalties, where Stoke prevailed against all odds.
Chelsea’s woes were only compounded by Diego Costa’s first-half injury but there remains a whiff of hope in Mourinho’s darkest hour.
Homepage photo credit: Tsutomu Takasu, via Flickr