STOKE (0) vs CHELSEA (0)
CHELSEA manager Andre Villas-Boas labelled Stoke’s roughhouse tactics “out of this world” after seeing his Premier League debut end in the disappointment of a scoreless stalemate.
An unusually zesty performance from much-maligned £50m striker Fernando Torres was the biggest positive for the young Portuguese coach, who had to stomach just three draws last season as he swept the board with Porto.
Torres could not score, however, and the nearest the Blues came was with three penalty appeals that were waved away, although Villas-Boas felt more aggrieved at the conduct of Stoke players at set-pieces.
“A point I want to make when you are playing difficult games like this one is the amount of pushing and grabbing in the box, because it’s out of this world,” said Villas-Boas (right), who was an animated presence on the touchline. “I think there’s a limit to the pushing and grabbing. It makes it impossible.”
Villas-Boas would have hoped for a win from his opening league game, not least to quell doubts over the wisdom of appointing a 33-year-old with less than two seasons’ experience, but he refused to be downcast.
“I can’t be pleased with a point but it’s one of the most difficult grounds to play at,” he said. “For our title challenge I would say one point at Stoke is not bad.”
Villas-Boas gambled by preferring Torres, who has just one goal since his January arrival, to the evergreen Didier Drogba but was largely vindicated by the Spaniard’s sharpness.
Torres was at the centre of one of the penalty claims when he fell under a challenge from Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross, but the strongest was perhaps when Frank Lampard tumbled over Marc Wilson’s leg.
Both were dismissed by Mark Halsey, while Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was equally intransigent, if more athletic, in denying Chelsea when he tipped over a rasping volley from John Obi Mikel.
Villas-Boas threw on Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Yossi Benayoun as he strove in vain for a winner, and the team’s failure to find the goal is only likely to increase calls from fans for the Blues to resume their pursuit of £35m-rated Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric.
Stoke’s only major negative was an injury to winger Matthew Etherington, who was sent for an X-ray on his shoulder.