Florent Malouda was once Chelsea's forgotten man but yesterday he symbolised a reawakening as his last-minute winner propelled Chelsea to the type of start to a season of which Jose Mourinho would have been proud.
The France winger left it uncomfortably late to help Carlo Ancelotti record a fifth straight league win but it was his team-mates' relentlessness, their refusal to settle for a draw with Stoke City in one of the most hostile Premier League settings, that proved their mettle as potential champions.
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Chelsea needed this victory every bit as sorely as Malouda's extravangant celebrations hinted. Not only was it the perfect fillip before Tuesday night's Champions League opener against Porto, it was also a tonic for the uncertainty they have endured over the Gael Kakuta saga, which took a fresh turn yesterday after Fifa prevented them from recalling any players on loan.
Carlo Ancelotti was calm in triumph, arguing: "We got what we deserved because we tried to attack all the time. We had a very good direction throughout the match, and we applied good pressure." But it was Stoke who consistently put them strain. Chelsea's achievement was magnified when set against the background that Stoke had lost only once here all year.
Every lost cause chased, every 50-50 contested; this is the Stoke philosophy. Tony Pulis has bred among his players an intimidating resolve, which strengthens every time that they are able to feed off the raucous din inside the Britannia Stadium. John Terry, you could tell, did not like it one bit, as reflected in his running scrap with Stoke's strikers. At one stage he had to be restrained by the assistant referee after an agricultural challenge from Ricardo Fuller.
Stoke are a stolid, rough-hewn bunch, whose play has more than a few parallels with the old Bolton of Sam Allardyce. Chelsea's moneyed stars enjoy coming here about as much as they would relish being forced to shop at the local Morrison's.
So it was ominous for Ancelotti when a familiar pattern established itself, with heavy tackles all across the pitch and Chelsea pressed into adopting a more defensive set-up than they would have liked. Even the diamond formation, a feature so far this season, lost its rigidity as Frank Lampard combined holding duties alongside John Obi Mikel with frequent and usually futile surges at Stoke's resolute back line.
But it would be misleading to portray Stoke as negative when James Beattie had the first scent of a breakthrough, the forward clear on goal before he managed to skew his shot wide. Sadly for him, he had to be taken off on a stretcher after suffering a recurrence of the knee trouble that has plagued his year. Chelsea were shaken, though, when a grossly mistimed lunge by Ryan Shawcross created a tetchier mood.
Faye was performing a faultless shift at centre-back and could not resist trying his luck in attack. The lofted cross from Glenn Whelan that came his way in the 32nd minute was like a sweet being prised from a baby - just too easy. The power of Faye's physical presence was such that Petr Cech, in two minds about whether to catch or punch the ball, could only watch the resulting header sail beyond him.
A chant of "Abdoulaye, my Lord, Abdoulaye" resonated around the stadium, a reminder of Faye's unlikely place in the hearts of Stoke's supporters. Surely, some time soon, Stoke will be twinned with Dakar, so closely do their side resemble the Senegalese national team. Amdy Faye and Salif Diao are two others from the west African nation to have joined Faye at each other's houses just like their mothers make.
The payback for Chelsea was somewhat perverse, as referee Mike Dean awarded an excessive eight minutes of first-half added time for the injury to Beattie. Drogba made every moment count with a virtuoso turn out of nowhere, seizing on Lampard's cross before Faye could blink and rifling a spectacular finish. Substitute goalkeeper Steve Simonsen would have done well just to see it.
Chelsea were remorseless in the second half, besieging Sorensen's goal with ornately-constructed counter-attacks, and Stoke's fatigue showed. Pulis suggested as much when he said: "Chelsea wear you out. Players switch off. That's why the top four or five teams score so often late in games." Malouda underlined Pulis' point, latching on to Nicolas Anelka's lay-off to dispatch a goal of potentially untold worth.