City succumb to first home defeat of the season...
ALVARO MORATA netted a clinically taken hat-trick at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday afternoon as Champions Chelsea inflicted a first home defeat of the season upon Mark Hughes’ side.
The Spanish international was in impeccable form as he continued the impressive start he has made in English football following his high-profile arrival from Real Madrid during the summer.
It took him just 80 seconds to open his account for the afternoon with a superbly-executed strike from 12-yards, after he had managed to nip in between a makeshift Stoke City back three and latch onto a routine ball forward.
The home side battled bravely though and tested the visitors resistance with several decent opportunities, although both Mame Diouf and Maxim Choupo-Moting were guilty of not being potent enough when positioned well inside the penalty area.
It was always likely to be the hosts biggest test of the season against the West Londoners, with no fewer than four frontline central defenders absent from the starting line-up.
Kurt Zouma was ineligible to feature against his parent club because of FA rules, whilst Kevin Wimmer’s injury further hindered Hughes’ pre-match plans with both Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron failing to recover from knocks in time.
That left Bruno Martins Indi as the only naturally recognised central defender as part of a back three, which also included full-backs Glen Johnson, who made his first league start of the campaign, and Dutch international Erik Pieters.
It wasn’t long until the visitors turned the screw into the home side; only this time it was Morata’s Spanish teammate Pedro proving problematic, with a devastating finish from the corner of the penalty box doubling their advantage.
In fairness to the Stoke City players, they continued to battle, against the odds, and should have had some kind of reward to show for their efforts as they ended the first-half strongly.
Diouf, who impressed in his right wing-back roll, went close with an acrobatic effort from 10-yards, whilst Darren Fletcher narrowly failed to make contact with a sublime Xherdan Shaqiri centre which fizzed through a packed penalty area.
The hosts continued to look lively early in the second half too, and should have been given real encouragement of turning the game on its head when full-back Marcos Alonso tripped Diouf on the right just moments after being cautioned.
However, referee Mike Dean bizarrely opted to give him a talking to rather than a second yellow card; a decision Antonio Conte was undoubtedly grateful for as he replaced him with Gary Cahill just moments later.
That incident left Hughes, and the home supporters, incandescent, but the players on the field continued to show real professionalism, maintaining their decent start to the half as they upped the ante in search of what would have been a deserved goal.
However, as Chelsea have shown over the past 12 months or so, they are so potent on the break, and with City chasing the game, opportunities to surge forward were always likely to present themselves to the Blues’ quartet of attacking talent.
Morata was so often the focal point for the title-challengers, and his prolific instinct was evident once more when he burst down the left flank, cut inside of Darren Fletcher and clipped a stunning effort over Butland and into the far corner to end the contest.
His afternoon’s work was finished just there however, as five minutes later he tapped home his third, and by far easiest, goal of the afternoon to earn himself a first Premier League hat-trick, and the matchball to boot.
For Hughes? Well he will take comfort from the fact that his side performed far more admirably than they did down at Ashton Gate earlier in the week, and will be left hoping that several of his absentees will be back and available for Southampton in seven day’s time.