STOKE // Sugar Ray Leonard donned a Stoke shirt during the pre-match pleasantries, but Chelsea possessed all the right combinations to take care of a physical test at the Britannia Stadium. One of the greatest boxers in history, apparently a keen fan of the English version of football, was in attendance after speaking at a dinner in Stoke on Friday. The home side suffered a substantial blow before kick-off when their human catapult Rory Delap, who possesses the longest throw in the game, was ruled out after picking up a hamstring injury in training.
Chelsea were deprived of Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Joe Cole through injury, but that didn't prevent Felipe Scolari's well-oiled machine taking instant control of a mostly one-sided contest. Thomas Sorensen tipped over a venomous drive from Michael Ballack in the eighth minute and surpassed that with a save from the top draw to deny Didier Drogba six minutes later. Frank Lampard's pass sprung Stoke's offside trap and Sorensen made a superb stop to his left when Drogba looked certain to open his account for the season.
Although Mamady Sidibe was proving difficult for John Terry and Alex to handle on the rare occasions City did get forward, there was a feeling of inevitability when Chelsea took the lead. Jose Bosingwa started and finished the move, eventually racing onto a pass from the ubiquitous Frank Lampard to bury a fierce cross-shot into the far corner, despite a desperate attempt by Andy Griffin to clear off the line.
It was the full-back's first goal for the club, but there will surely be many more from the classy Portuguese player. Chelsea could have wrapped up the points in the first two minutes of the second half. Lampard was inches off target and Florent Malouda's fierce shot threatened to break the crossbar via Thomas Sorensen's fingertips. Stoke came close to making them pay for their profligacy as they enjoyed their best period of pressure following the introduction of substitute Ricardo Fuller in the 53rd minute.
Leon Cort rose highest to meet Liam Lawrence's right-wing corner on the hour and the big defender's firm header was cleared off the line by John Obi Mikel. But the unfortunate Cort was then culpable as Chelsea ensured there would be no anxious finale, with substitute Nicolas Anelka making the points safe 14 minutes from time. Cort stumbled as he attempted to deal with the excellent Bosingwa's right-wing delivery and Anelka struck a first-time shot which brushed Sorensen's fingers on the way in.