LONDON — Fittingly, as the Grand National went off Saturday in Liverpool, Chelsea downed Stoke at a canter, taking the Potters apart behind goals from Mohamed Salah, Frank Lampard, and Willian. The result sent the Blues back atop the Premier League table, at least for the night, and piled more pressure on Liverpool come Sunday as they face West Ham in London.
The result was never in doubt as Chelsea shrugged off their loss in Paris with a dominant performance that challenged a burly Stoke side from the start. Peter Crouch, isolated and ineffective all night long, cut a lonely figure as Chelsea simply pushed the Potters back into their own half, with only the rare attempt troubling keeper Petr Cech.
"We recovered some self-esteem and confidence after the defeats, I like that very much," said Mourinho. "We go back to victories, and we have a big match on Tuesday."
Fielding an unusual attacking trident Chelsea outshot Stoke by a ratio of 10-1. But the set-up still didn’t favor Fernando Torres, who looked as lonely as Crouch, despite seeing far more of the ball. With reports that he is to be shipped off to Spain this summer, it is no wonder that he is jaded, but with each passing game, Mourinho’s stinging remarks — that he "lacks a striker" — seem more and more like facts, not jibes.
But Mourinho took care to compliment Torres after the game, saying he was "pleased" with the effort and refusing to be drawn into any further questions ahead of Chelsea’s difficult game Tuesday against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
Adding to the intrigue in the Premier League is that Manchester City crushed Southampton 4-1 and still have two games in hand on the Blues. That puts them in position to leap past both them and Liverpool — and makes the match on April 13 at Anfield even more vital for both sides. And that is also a situation Mourinho took care to note.
"The table is fake," said Mourinho. "There are lots of matches in hand. Some teams have more matches than others. Relegation are is the same. Chelsea cannot say we need ‘x points’ to be champions and Fulham, Norwich, Cardiff are also the same. This in the best league in the world — I don’t think this is the best image or situation. To play all these matches in hand in the last week of season is not adapted to this top football country."
But that’s neither here nor there. Brendan Rodgers has insisted that there is no pressure on his Liverpool side but with six games remaining, suddenly there is not only expectation on Merseyside, but the weight of expectations as well. Liverpool have the deadliest strike force in the league, haven’t lost a league game since December, and have their fate in their hands. On the flip side, Chelsea will have some issue to take with that of course as the two teams will go head to head at Anfield on the 27th, which Mourinho noted in his post-game remarks, "we have three points to discuss with them."
On Sunday, Liverpool will face a West Ham side that has very little to play for. Probably safe on 37 points given how dreadful the bottom trio are in this league, manager Sam Allardyce also made the unusual move of praising Liverpool in his Friday column in the London Evening Standard, saying "I would like to see them [win the title.]"
Whether or not that was a primitive form of the kind of mind games Mourinho is so adept at is unclear, but it is certain that one man at West Ham will want to have a good go: former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll. Finally back and fit, the big man, famously acquired by the Reds in the richest-ever transfer involving a British player, was jettisoned when Rodgers came over. Carroll has said he has no resentment toward Liverpool or Rodgers for the move — he told the media Friday that Rodgers had been up-front and honest with him about the reasons for the switch — but he surely will want to fly about the Reds vulnerable back line and see if he can create some damage.
West Ham aren’t the prettiest team to watch — under Big Sam, they have resorted to a bullying and direct style that seems more in tune with the 1970s than the modern game — but they can hurt you if you let them hang around in a game. Upton park is tight, and the braying fans of East London will certainly try to get on Liverpool early. The problem is that the Hammers don’t seem to have many answers for the so-called "SAS" team, much less the other "S" flying Raheem Sterling. Guy Demel seems two steps too slow and while Adrian has made some spectacular saves, he has not shown an ability to withstand steady pressure.
On paper, you have to think that this is as easy an assignment for the Reds as the Potters were for Chelsea on Saturday. But this has been a funny season; Palace have upset Chelsea; Stoke have upset Arsenal; and perhaps Sunday will be Liverpool’s Waterloo. Mourinho certainly will be hoping that is the case.