(AFP)— Chelsea regained top spot in the Premier League thanks to a straightforward 3-0 win over shot-shy Stoke City at Stamford Bridge in Saturday’s late kick-off.
Goals from Mohamed Salah, Frank Lampard and Willian were enough for Jose Mourinho’s side to move ahead of Liverpool, who play West Ham on Sunday, by a point.
Victory also ended a run of two successive defeats and maintained Mourinho’s remarkable record of never having lost at home in the Premier League.
And it will also have acted as a timely boost ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final decider against Paris Saint-Germain, where Chelsea must overturn a 3-1 first leg deficit if they are to reach the last four.
Fernando Torres, the Spain forward, was the early focus of attention after being restored to the Chelsea starting line-up.
Wednesday’s defeat in Paris had seen Mourinho start with no recognised front-man and the Portuguese manager complained afterwards that he lacked “real strikers”.
There was no doubt he was talking about Torres, who fired a low drive wide of the Stoke goal early on and was denied an opening goal by a smart save from Asmir Begovic after Eric Pieters’s chest-back had failed to reach his goalkeeper.
But the £50 million ($83m, 60m euros) man made little other impact in a first period the home side dominated comfortably and was once again out-shone by more industrious team-mates.
Salah was far busier on the right of an attacking midfield three, although his first contribution was to send a tame effort straight at Begovic.
Branislav Ivanovic headed wide from a corner before the over-worked Begovic did well to bat away a deflected drive from Willian and a low effort from Lampard.
- Salah’s smashing opener -
Torres felt he should have had a penalty as Geoff Cameron challenged but it wasn’t long before Salah marked his first Chelsea start with a 32nd-minute goal.
Nemanja Matic supplied the cross from the left and the Egyptian, who signed in January from Basel, smashed his shot off Begovic and into the top of the net.
The 21-year-old almost scored again soon afterwards but over-ran the ball at the crucial moment, allowing Begovic to gather.
Ivanovic thought he had doubled the lead with a powerful header after Stoke had been caught in possession in their own half but a raised flag correctly ruled out the ‘goal’ for offside.
Stoke had threatened only occasionally at the other end and made a double change at the break, sending on Charlie Adam and Andy Wilkinson.
Adam’s first contribution was to stamp a tackle on Andre Schurrle’s foot, hurting the German, but referee Lee Probert didn’t see it.
Schurrle was replaced by Eden Hazard in the 59th minute and within seconds the Belgian had set up the second goal.
His backwards flick sent Salah into space and the Egyptian was brought down by Wilkinson’s crude challenge.
Begovic parried Lampard’s penalty but the England midfielder was first to the rebound to double Chelsea’s lead in the 61st minute.
Stoke were slightly more adventurous after that and began firing long shots at Petr Cech’s goal.
But there was no hope for Mark Hughes’s side once Hazard set up Willian for a perfectly-placed curler that gave Begovic no chance in the 72nd minute to complete the scoring.
Chelsea gave England veteran Ashley Cole a 12-minute cameo on the left wing when he replaced Willian.