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Report: Chelsea 4 Stoke City 2

Chelsea finished the year with a flourish and a 13th straight league victory after Stoke had twice equalised in the second half.

Gary Cahill headed the only goal before the interval, but immediately after the restart the Potters responded through Bruno Martins Indi.

Willian had us back in front with a clever strike, and no sooner had Peter Crouch levelled again, the Brazilian no.22 blasted us into a 3-2 lead.

Diego Costa capped another excellent afternoon’s work with a fine individual strike of his own late on, ensuring the Blues will head to White Hart Lane on Wednesday night on the back of a club record 10th straight victory in all competitions. 

It was no shock to see both Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante back in Antonio Conte’s starting XI after suspension. That same fate meant Pedro was one of those to make way. Nemanja Matic dropped to the bench, perhaps with a potential fifth booking to him in mind.

Stoke brought the creative Ibrahim Afellay and Xherdan Shaqiri into the team following their 4-1 defeat at Liverpool earlier in the week. Joe Allen moved back into central midfield.

Eden Hazard and Kante had a couple of early sighters but neither troubled Lee Grant between Stoke’s posts. At the other end, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta had to be at their defensive best to clear a pair of very dangerous Charlie Adam free-kicks.

It looked like we might have broken the deadlock with 18 minutes played when Diego Costa chested a Cesc Fabregas pass inside Mame Diouf and thumped a volley goalwards. Grant used his chest to keep it out and the rebound fell kindly in to his path, too. Stoke’s stopper then had to claw a downward header from Cahill away. Our captain wasn’t to be denied for long.

Midway through the half, Moses was booked for holding back Eric Pieters. From the resulting free-kick, Adam picked out Shaqiri who should have done better than blaze over. Adam then headed a corner wide, more evidence Mark Hughes’s team weren’t coming to the Bridge just to defend.

Of course we weren’t either. A glorious, Frank Leboeuf-esque 80-yard pass from David Luiz picked out Diego Costa, who again cut inside and was again foiled by Grant, who then impressively diverted Hazard’s shot over.  

It didn’t matter, however, for Cahill planted Fabregas’s subsequent corner in, giving Grant and Diouf, guarding the post, no chance. Thirty-four minutes had been played, and it proved the last major action of the first half. 

Not a minute had been played of the second when Stoke levelled. Crouch won a deep free-kick in the air and nodded in the direction of Martins Indi, who stole between Azpilicueta and Kante and stabbed home. 1-1.

The question now was how Chelsea would respond to conceding our first goal in four weeks and five games.

The early signs were good. Willian skewed an effort wide and curled another beyond the post, and then Diego Costa drew a low save out of Grant as we upped the tempo.

On 57 minutes, we got our rewards.

Moses was too skilful for Pieters on the corner of the box, creating space for himself to pick out Hazard closer to goal. The Belgian set the ball back to Willian who cleverly bounced his left-footed strike into the ground, allowing it to pick up speed and fly past the helpless Grant.

Willian wouldn't have to wait long for his second of the day and fifth of the season, but not before Stoke had equalised again.

Crouch again caused trouble, winning the first header from another high ball, and then when Kante didn’t clear, Diouf squared to the former England striker who converted with ease.  

Breaths had barely been drawn when we retook the lead 60 seconds later. Fabregas found space in a dangerous position approaching Stoke’s box and he wasn’t going to waste it, slipping Willian in to his right. The no.22 blasted his finish high past Grant and celebrated joyously in front of a relieved Matthew Harding Stand, fresh from seeing their side concede two goals for the first time in this extraordinary winning sequence. 

That was Fabregas’s 100th Premier League assist, and the magical man was replaced to a standing ovation not long after, Matic introduced to try and shore things up.

Diego Costa really should have made it 4-2 but fired over at the end of a thrilling counter-attack brought about by the speed, skill and awareness of Willian and Hazard.

Azpilicueta expertly diverted Glen Johnson’s cross away from a threatening area as Stoke sought to hit back once more, but Diego Costa put the seal on a very entertaining afternoon of Premier League football with a magnificent fourth goal, and his 14th of the campaign.

A throw into the Stoke box looked harmless enough, but the striker got ahead of Shawcross and then in front of Martins Indi, muscling the Dutchman out of his way and blasting a left-footer across Grant into the top corner. It was a truly exhilarating centre-forward’s goal, and the perfect way to cap another victory, one which equals Arsenal’s record for consecutive wins (13) in a single Premier League season. The stage is set for Wednesday's big derby...

(3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses (Ivanovic 82), Kante, Fabregas (Matic 73), Alonso; Willian (Chalobah 84), Diego Costa, Hazard.
Unused subs Begovic, Zouma, Loftus-Cheek, Batshuayi.
Scorers Cahill 34, Willian 57, 65, Diego Costa 84
Booked Moses 24, Fabregas 59, Alonso 70

Stoke City (3-4-3): Grant; Johnson, Shawcross (c), Martins Indi; Diouf, Adam, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri (Bojan 61), Affelay (Imbula 61); Crouch.
Unused subs Given, Bardsley, Sobhi, Whelan, Bony.
Scorers Martins Indi 46, Crouch 64
Booked Diouf 70, Adam 86

Referee Robert Madley
Crowd 41,601

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