Begovic denies Villas-Boas a winning start

Stoke 0 Chelsea 0

Asmir Begovic’s heroics denied Chelsea a winning start to Andre Villas-Boas’ reign.

The Stoke goalkeeper produced three excellent second-half saves, the best of which was a stunning stop to deny Blues substitute Nicolas Anelka.

Villas-Boas showed his faith in Fernando Torres by starting with the Spaniard up front rather than Didier Drogba, who joined Anelka on the bench.

Torres, under scrutiny after a poor start to his Chelsea career, looked sharp in the first half but seemed to lose confidence after missing a good chance early in the second.

The £50m striker was six yards out when found by John Terry’s knock-down from Florent Malouda’s corner, but horribly scuffed his shot and then faded from the game before being taken off late on.

Since taking over as manager, Villas-Boas has made it clear that strengthening his midfield is a priority, particularly in light of Michael Essien’s absence with a knee injury.

And this game showed why, as Essien’s dynamism was sorely missed against a typically rugged Stoke team.

Anelka went close for Chelsea

Chelsea appealed in vain for an early penalty after Salomon Kalou went down under pressure from Glenn Whelan, while Stoke thought they should have been awarded a spot-kick six minutes before half-time.

Jon Walters collected Jermaine Pennant’s cross and was blocked off by Terry, with the ball appearing to strike the Chelsea skipper’s chest or arm. Either way, the contact was unintentional.

And both sides again had decent shouts for a penalty early in the second half, first when Torres was felled by Ryan Shawcross near the edge of the area, and then when Frank Lampard hit the deck after a mis-timed tackle by Stoke’s Marc Wilson.

Moments after Wilson’s trip went unpunished, Jon Obi Mikel’s dipping volley brought a fine fingertip save from Begovic.

The Bosnian did even better on 70 minutes when Anelka, on in place of Malouda, cut in from the left and let fly with a right-footed curler Begovic did brilliantly to tip onto the bar.

Torres was unable to force home the rebound, but two minutes later served up a good cross for Kalou, who was denied at close range by yet another Begovic save.

Villas-Boas sent Drogba on for the final 15 minutes as his side continued to press for a winner. But Stoke held firm to become the first team for a decade to deny Chelsea a winning start to a league campaign.