Stoke 0 Chelsea 0
New Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas’ introduction to the Barclays Premier League proved to be a testing and frustrating affair as his side were held to a goalless draw at Stoke.
The Portuguese may have raced to the league title with Porto and also won the Europa League last season but nothing could have prepared him for the challenge he met at the Britannia Stadium.
Having withstood considerable pressure in the first half Chelsea dominated after the break but the closest they came was when goalkeeper Asmir Begovic tipped Nicolas Anelka’s shot onto the crossbar.
If Villas-Boas was under any illusion about how tough English football was then he was given a typical example by Tony Pulis’ terrier-like Potters.
It was not necessarily the physicality of the challenge Stoke presented but more the incessant pressure which they put their opponents under.
There was no respite, no time for players to linger on the ball and certainly no way anyone could switch off for a second as the Potters were relentless from the first whistle.
A Rory Delap throw and a couple of Jermaine Pennant corners caused some early consternation in Petr Cech’s penalty area and set-pieces continued to cause problems throughout.
Late in the first half Jose Bosingwa and Cech managed to keep out Matt Etherington’s inswinging free-kick under the crossbar at the near post after John Terry had stopped Kenwyne Jones in his tracks.
Terry appeared to be the centre of everything, the ball bouncing off his shoulder after Jon Walters had flicked it over him and ending in a heap with Ryan Shawcross in the six-yard box as they tussled for a corner.
But for all their endeavours Stoke’s attack could not match the quality of their opponents.
Villas-Boas firmly pinned his colours to the mast by naming Fernando Torres ahead of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka and he would have been encouraged to see the Spain international starting to show glimpses of the form he enjoyed at Liverpool.
One surging first-half run from the Spaniard, who has scored just once in 19 appearances since his £50m January transfer, was reminiscent of his Anfield heyday.
His body language looked more positive and after a full pre-season his fitness worries appear to be behind him.
He was the target for some close attention, with Stoke captain Shawcross booked in only the 10th minute for clattering the striker having missed with his first attempt.
Torres responded by dragging a low shot just wide and, in first-half injury time, bundling another off target under pressure from Shawcross.
But threats came from other areas and Salomon Kalou went down in the penalty area under a challenge from Glenn Whelan only for referee Mark Halsey to wave play on.
Bosingwa’s cross-come-shot was tipped behind by Begovic while Ramires’ run and cross into the six-yard box failed to pick out a team-mate.
The tide turned after the break and Jonathan Woodgate, making his Premier League debut having left Tottenham in the summer, was a key figure in keeping Chelsea at bay.
First his slide diverted Frank Lampard’s shot behind and then he blocked Torres six yards out as he swivelled to shoot from Terry’s downward header.
Lampard was convinced he should have had a penalty when he went down under a challenge from Marc Wilson but the England midfielder looked to be heading to ground anyway.
Begovic was then called into action, tipping over a John Obi Mikel dipping volley and touching substitute Anelka’s curling shot onto the woodwork before Kalou headed straight at the goalkeeper from eight yards as Chelsea continued to threaten.
It was Kalou’s last involvement as he was replaced by Drogba with 15 minutes to go.
But even with their three front-line strikers on the pitch the visitors found their opponents as obdurate as ever and Torres eventually made way for Yossi Benayoun late on.
The result secured only Stoke’s second point in seven league meetings.
At the age of 33 Villas-Boas has proved he is a quick learner. What he will have discovered after an afternoon at the Britannia is that the curve gets steeper from here on in.