London, AP—Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah scored one goal and played a part in the other two as Chelsea strolled to a 3-0 victory over Stoke to recover from back-to-back losses and reclaim the provisional Premier League lead Saturday.
Even though Jose Mourinho downplays Chelsea’s title prospects, his team remain in the mix with a relatively undemanding run-in, apart from a trip to Liverpool.
And it’s Liverpool that can ensure Chelsea’s stay at the top this weekend is short-lived by winning Sunday at West Ham.
This was a routine victory for Chelsea against a Stoke side that presented little attacking threat, and Salah profited on his first start since joining from Basel in January.
Salah was left unmarked when he netted the opener in the 32nd minute, and after the break the Egypt winger won the penalty that Frank Lampard first saw saved before netting the rebound.
Salah set up Willian to curl in Chelsea’s third in the 72nd to wrap up a fifth consecutive home win, with the team scoring 17 unanswered goals during a formidable period at Stamford Bridge.
The problems are away, having lost the last two league games on the road to struggling sides Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, and at Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their quarterfinal on Wednesday.
“Away we have some matches where we must change our profile . . . and adapt to the situation,” Mourinho said.
“If I go to a wedding, I don’t go in jeans,” he added. “And if I leave my house to go for a walk in Hyde Park I don’t go in a smoking [jacket].”
Mourinho accepted that it took at least 15 minutes for his team to “recover self-esteem and confidence.”
Not that Fernando Torres seemed to have any. The misfiring striker started up front again after being dropped for the 3-1 loss in Paris, but did little to convince Mourinho that he should be part of the team for next season.
After two early efforts there was little danger from the player whose career has been in a downward spiral since joining Chelsea in 2011 for 50 million pounds sterling (then 80 million US dollars) from Liverpool.
Torres first struck wide, then had a low close-range effort blocked by Asmir Begovic after Stoke defender Marc Wilson inadvertently chested the ball to him.
While Torres has just one goal in 2014, Salah now has two since joining Chelsea in January. From a throw-in, Nemanja Matic’s cutback reached Salah, who was left completely unchallenged by the Stoke defense to power the ball into the net.
“We bought a kid from a different habitat, an Egyptian player playing in Switzerland, we knew the kid was going to take time,” Mourinho said of the 21-year-old Salah.
“You feel it immediately the connection between him and the crowd.”
Although Branislav Ivanovic had the ball in the net again for Chelsea before halftime, the goal was ruled out for offside. Instead, the lead was extended after the break, with substitute Eden Hazard involved in the two goals.
The penalty was won after the Belgium midfielder flicked the ball onto Salah, who was then brought down by Andy Wilkinson. Although Lampard’s penalty was saved, he reacted quickly to stab the rebound into the net in the 61st. It was his 250th goal in club football, encompassing his time at West Ham and Swansea before joining Chelsea in 2001.
Stoke’s defense was cut through again with ease for the third goal. Hazard brought the ball forward from inside his own half and squared to Salah. Willian then collected the ball and had time to move forward unchallenged before bending the ball into the top corner.
“He was so sharp on the ball,” Lampard said of Willian. “The goal was the epitome of what he does better than anyone I think I’ve played with.”
Whether Chelsea players end up with Premier League winners’ medals this season remains unclear. Now it’s about hoping Liverpool slips up at West Ham and then overturning the deficit against PSG on Tuesday and advancing to the Champions League semi-finals.