Gary Cahill’s 87th-minute effort sent Chelsea 13 points clear at the Premier League summit with a 2-1 victory over Stoke City in a tempestuous encounter at the bet365 Stadium.
Chelsea looked set to miss the chance to extend their advantage over the chasing pack, but Cahill atoned for giving away a penalty by pouncing after a tactical switch from Antonio Conte to pile more pressure on Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool – all of whom play on Sunday.
With the teams level after 70 minutes, Conte – who was without star forward Eden Hazard due to a reported muscle injury – changed his much-vaunted 3-4-3 formation to a 4-2-3-1 and Chelsea responded by upping the pressure to force a late winner.
The Blues led after 13 minutes when Willian caught Lee Grant out with a near-post free-kick for his first top-flight goal since scoring a double in the reverse of this fixture in December.
After having a goal ruled out for Saido Berahino’s shove on Cesar Azpilicueta, Stoke were awarded a soft penalty when Cahill pushed Johnathan Walters to ground – the forward slamming the spot-kick beyond Thibaut Courtois.
Marcos Alonso rattled the crossbar before Conte made his tactical move and it played out perfectly for the Italian thanks to Cahill’s late intervention, while Stoke’s misery was compounded when Phil Bardsley was sent off for a second bookable offence in second-half stoppage time.
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