Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho hailed his side’s 2-0 Premier League victory at Stoke City as one of their most significant yet this season.
A second minute header from John Terry and Cesc Fabregas’ finish in the second half gave the Londoners a three point lead at the top of thew table over over Manchester City at Christmas.
But it was the manner of the victory that pleased Mourinho the most with Chelsea forced to win a physical battle.
“To win here we must play a very good game and we did it because we adapted well to their style of play,” he said.
“When we had the ball we tried not to lose our identity and play our game.
“They are always strong in this stadium, the crowd are always behind them. They have good players and a good bench. It was a very difficult victory.
“It was a victory that means a bit more than the three points. It was not just difficult but you need more than just your quality to win here.
“The players coped well with the difficult style and were not afraid to have responsibilities and our creative players were not afraid to assume the game.
“Our defensive players were very solid. Only with a great team performance was it possible to beat Stoke.”
Mourinho saluted captain Terry who scored in the Premier League for a 15th consecutive season.
“He is very dangerous in set piece, he is very good player in the air, he is always a threat,” he said.
“More importantly is the way he has been playing this season again. When I came here last year he was in a bit of trouble, his career was a bit up and down. He was not playing regularly for Chelsea.
“But suddenly in the last two years he is playing basically every game and for me at the same level as when I was here 2004-2007.
“It’s just our way of work. He adapted well to our training methodology with his body type.
“He feels sharp and fast in good conditions. He is happy and when you are happy and feel confident it feels easier in every job. Football is very specific on that. He knows I trust him and is very confident and playing very well.”
Stoke full back Phil Bardsley was booked for a bad tackle on Belgian star Eden Hazard in the first half but Mourinho, who was incensed at the time, thought it should have seen him sent off.
“From my position and in the flesh it looks for me a red card but I don’t know,” said Mourinho.
“What I know is that if it was a bad tackle it was the only one. It was a clean game but an aggressive one. The referee kept the game under control. The players were fair.
“It was a good fight. Physicality, duels, lots of long balls. But the game was perfectly clean and correct. If it was a red card it was an isolated action. And we need to consider that.”
His Stoke counterpart Mark Hughes took heart from his side’s display as they matched Chelsea all the way until Fabregas’ strike on 78 minutes.
“It was the worst possible start,” said Hughes, who numbered Chelsea among his clubs as a player.
“You don’t want to concede early to a top quality side like Chelsea. We’ve talked till we are blue – or red in the face.
“But we stuck at it.
“We did not offer them too many clear cut chances. It looked like we might get back on level terms.”
Unsurprisingly Hughes — a combative player himself in his prime for Manchester United and Barcelona — didn’t see Bardsley’s as being a red card offence.
“It was two teams committed to winning the game. I see no harm in that, every challenge was an honest one. That physicality will always be there. It was more to do with an outstanding team,” said the 51-year-old Welshman.
“At the time of the Bardsley one I thought it was just a mistimed challenge. I’ve not seen it but I think my instinct was yellow was fair.”