Chelsea’s struggles continued as Marko Arnautovic’s second-half volley earned Stoke City a 1-0 victory over the reigning champions on Saturday Night Football.
Manager Jose Mourinho was not at the Britannia Stadium due to his one-match stadium ban but his side’s alarming slump continued, the visitors failing to make the most of a dominant first-half display as Arnautovic’s spectacular effort (53) earned the Potters three points.
The result leaves Chelsea – who have lost seven of their 12 league games – just three points above the relegation zone, and 13 points adrift of the top-four places, while Stoke, who also knocked the Blues out of the Capital One Cup a fortnight ago, climb to 12th in the Premier League table.
Mourinho had given his pre-match talk in the team hotel but his presence remained as fans donned masks and held aloft cardboard cut-outs of their beleaguered manager.
An unchanged Potters side sought to unsettle the Blues, Xherdan Shaqiri’s overhead kick in the opening minute an early signal of intent.
But the hosts failed to build off the promising start, and with Erik Pieters off the pitch receiving treatment for nasty-looking blow to his nose, the visitors looked to make the most of their momentary advantage.
First Eden Hazard and Willian combined to set up Ramires on 14 minutes, but his toe-poked effort went wide, before Diego Costa came within inches of turning Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross home a minute later.
The action kept coming as Stoke created their first clear opening. Glen Johnson’s foray up field saw him force Asmir Begovic into a decent save low to his right, before Azpilicueta hacked the ball to safety.
Jack Butland, instrumental to the Potters’ goalless draw at Newcastle last weekend, looked on top form again, denying Ramires’ looping volley with a fine save shortly after.
Shaqiri was a constant threat in the first half, giving Chelsea left-back Baba Rahman a torrid time and the Swiss international almost turned provider for Jon Walters on 28 minutes, but the Irishman, who signed a new two-and-a-half year deal at Stoke ahead of kick-off, headed his cross over.
Chelsea mounted a late push for the breakthrough but Butland was on hand again to keep parity, denying Costa with his feet five minutes before the interval.
Mark Hughes’s half-time team-talk appeared to have the desired effect as an improved Stoke began the second period the stronger of the two sides. And within eight minutes they had they finally broken Chelsea’s resolve.
Bojan Krkic’s inch-perfect pass played Glen Johnson in behind Rahman. He delivered a great ball into the area where, after Walters had failed to turn the ball goal wards, Arnautovic was on hand to volley the ball beyond Begovic.
Chelsea looked for an instant response but were limited to long-range efforts until Pedro’s curling strike on 67 minutes beat Butland but struck the post.
The introduction of Oscar, Cesc Fabregas and then Loic Remy saw the visitors push for a route back into the game, and they had grounds for a penalty five minutes from time as Remy saw a good chance go to waste after he was forced to hurdle the on-rushing Butland.
Walters and Arnautovic had chances to wrap up the three points but, in the end, there was no need as the result condemned Chelsea to their seventh defeat of the season, the first time Mourinho has taste seven league defeats in one season his managerial career.