Chelsea returned to the top of the Barclays Premier League with a convincing 3-0 victory over Stoke City.
Jose Mourinho's men suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend before losing 3-1 to Paris Saint-Germain in their midweek UEFA Champions League last-eight clash to cap a miserable five-day spell.
But a return to Stamford Bridge proved welcome for the title chasers as Mohamed Salah scored on his full debut, Frank Lampard netted the rebound from his own saved penalty and Willian rifled home a stunner to preserve Chelsea's unbeaten home record in the top flight this season.
The result also extends Chelsea's excellent record against Stoke on home soil, with the Potters having lost on their last eight visits, failing to score in the last seven. It settles a score for the London club too, after they were beaten 3-2 at the Britannia Stadium in December.
Mourinho, who has repeatedly downplayed his side's title chances, rested some key players as Eden Hazard, scorer of Chelsea's goal at the Parc des Princes, and Oscar took up places on the bench. Fernando Torres did start, however, and was denied by the alert Asmir Begovic as the Spaniard looked to race on to Willian's early throughball. The former Liverpool striker then fired a shot narrowly wide of goal in the ninth minute.
Branislav Ivanovic might have done better with an 18-yard effort midway through the half but the Serbian looped his shot over the crossbar with the outside of his right boot.
Stoke almost gifted the hosts the opening goal when Erik Pieters attempted to chest the ball back to Begovic, only for Torres to intervene, forcing the visiting goalkeeper to bravely block.
Salah made the breakthrough with 31 minutes gone, firing in an excellent first-time effort after good work down the left from Nemanja Matic.
The visitors made a determined start to the second half and, with Chelsea struggling to assert themselves, Mourinho introduced Hazard from the bench.The Belgian immediately had an impact, playing a neat backheel into Salah inside the box, where the Egyptian was brought down by half-time substitute Andy Wilkinson for a Chelsea penalty.
Lampard's effort was initially saved by Begovic down to the goalkeeper's right, but the England midfielder responded first to tap the loose ball into an empty net.
There was no way back for former Chelsea forward Mark Hughes' side when Willian stroked home a tremendous effort from the edge of the box with 18 minutes left, but Stoke are still all but safe from relegation on 40 points.
Chelsea, though, have loftier aims and can now prepare for Tuesday's visit of PSG with a degree of confidence after an eighth consecutive clean sheet at home in all competitions.
In the meantime, Liverpool will hope to usurp the Blues at the summit when they travel to West Ham United on Sunday.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: "I keep saying that we don't depend only on ourselves and we never did. I was waiting to be top of the league and depending on ourselves but that has never happened. We depend too much on other results.
"We have to play Liverpool so we have three points to discuss with them but with Manchester City we don't play them, so they have it in their hands."
"They played well. Normally after defeats you don't start very confidently and that's what happened. But we finished the first half 1-0 and it could have been two or three because we played well in the last 20-25 minutes of the first half. The second goal [arrived] and the game is over, everything was under control.
"It is a good victory and it's what we have to do until the end of the season. We have five matches in the Premier League and we have to win five."
Stoke manager Mark Hughes: "I was disappointed with what we produced. It's a wake-up call to us. For weeks and weeks we've been a lot better than that but for whatever reason we didn't have enough players playing at their maximum today.
"In the end we weren't able to ask enough questions of a good Chelsea team and they didn't have to get out of second or third gear to take the game away from us."
"They (Chelsea) carry a strong squad and the players who come in are high quality. Off the bench they can bring quality players on just to take the game away from you. It was always a big ask to come here but I expect my team to do better than they did. We have to pick ourselves up."
|13 Apr 2014||v Swansea (A)|
|11 May 2014||v Cardiff (A)|
|19 Apr 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|04 May 2014||v Norwich (H)|
|27 Apr 2014||v Liverpool (A)|
|29 Nov 2014||v Sunderland (A)|