Marko Arnautovic piled more pressure and misery on Chelsea and manager Jose Mourinho Saturday with a second half goal that handed the Blues a third straight Premier League defeat, this one a 1-0 reversal on the evening that Mourinho was kept away from the stadium as he served an FA ban.
Arnautovic's goal came from a Stoke attack down the right in a match that was often dominated by Chelsea to no reward. Possession did not lead to smart finishing and the Blues' attack looked increasingly labored as the minutes ticked away. Stoke's well-known defensive resolution, coupled with Chelsea's tentative final passes combined to produce another frustrating performance from the champions.
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Stoke came into the match having won just one of its last five Premier League home matches while Chelsea was losing three consecutive Premier League games for the first time in the Roman Abramovich era. The defeat kept the defending champions in 16th place with just 11 points from 12 matches, contuining the worst-ever performance by a side defending the title in the Premier League era. Stoke rose to twelfth in the table with the win.
Mourinho watched the match from the team hotel and was presumably in contact with his assistants, Rui Faria and Steve Holland, who occupied his usual spot on the bench. The stadium ban was issued after Mourinho verbally abused referee Jonathan Moss at the interval at West Ham two weeks ago.
While there was a clear sign that the shape and attacking mentality, there in Mourinho's presence Wednesday night in the important Champions League win over Dynamo Kiev, accompanied Chelsea to the Britannia Stadium Saturday evening things too often ground to halt in the final third as a line of red-and-white striped defenders blocked the path to goal.
The Blues dominated the first half with Eden Hazard relishing the freedom Stoke allowed him in midfield, but few real chances materialized despite the lion's share of significant possession. Jack Butland had to react smartly to make a right foot save off Diego Costa in the 40th minute and was alert to tip-over a shot from Ramires in the 22nd minute though several Chelsea attacks foundered against the defensive wall.
The visitors won a series of corners as well, but none of them troubled the Stoke keeper or the central defenders. At the other end, Asmir Begovic was mainly a spectator but he did stretch to his right to keep out a Glen Johnson shot that, while on target, lacked the power to beat the keeper in the 17th minute.
Arnauovic decided matters in the 53rd minute when he vollied acrobatically at the far post after a fine Xherdan Shaqiri pass split the defense and sent Johnson in deep on the right. Johnson's cross was not taken by Jon Walters in the center of the box, but Walters contrived to keep the move alive and Arnautovic pounced before Begovic could back across his goal.
Chelsea continued to do most of the attacking and could have been level in the 67th minute when Pedro's shot beat Butland only to smack off the left post and out of danger.
The Blues then made two changes, taking off Baba Rahman and the unlucky Pedro and sending on Cesc Fabregas and Oscar as they looked for more invention for the sputtering attack. The final change for the visitors came with 15 minutes left, Loic Remy replacing Ramires to add another striker to the mix, but the substitutions did not inject new life into an increasingly ineffective approach.
The proof of that came with six minutes to go when Remy managed to leap over the sliding Butland to get to a pass from Diego Costa but could not put his shot on goal as he fell. It was the kind of play -- the miss coupled with the possibility of even a penalty award -- that might have produced a sideline action from Mourinho on another night.
Instead it served as the postcript to a night that ultimately belonged to Arnautovic and Stoke.