Liverpool rue the Remy that got away
(Eden Hazard 39-pen, Loic Remy 62)
(Charlie Adam 44)
It was nothing more than a simple tap-in, but its significance wouldn't have been lost on Chelsea.
Loic Remy, once more, was at the right place, at the right time, to help his side clinch a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Stoke City at Stamford Bridge yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The relief striker provides more than mere relief.
For two Premiership games in a row, he has provided the winning goal.
Add to those, the goal against Manchester City in a 1-1 draw in January, and Remy is responsible for rescuing seven points for the Blues this season.
Few fringe players can claim to make an impact as great, especially one who against Stoke was making only his fourth league start for Chelsea, and has featured in just about 450 minutes of Premiership action for manager Jose Mourinho.
"He deserves more than what I give him," Mourinho said recently of Remy, who is now set to get his chance after Diego Costa hurt himself against Stoke and has been ruled out for at least the next two weeks.
With this latest victory, Chelsea, who have a game in hand, maintained a seven-point lead over Arsenal at the top of the standings - a huge gap considering they have only eight matches left to play.
His crucial interventions for Chelsea also leave Liverpool, their own top-four hopes in tatters following Saturday's 4-1 loss to Arsenal, wondering what could have been.
For the 28-year-old striker could easily have been wearing red instead of blue.
But Liverpool chickened out.
Remy was ready to put pen to paper last July, but it never happened. The France international later revealed that his £8.5 million ($17.1m) move to Merseyside collapsed, because the club said they had concerns over a heart defect which they had already known about.
He labelled Liverpool "dishonest", insisting that he had seen London's best heart specialist who told him he could play without any problems.
For some reason, Chelsea had no such apprehension, and neither did Queens Park Rangers and Marseille before them.
The grapevine has it that striker Fabio Borini's determination to stay at Anfield resulted in Liverpool pulling the plug.
Harry Redknapp, then the manager at QPR for whom Remy was playing, said: "It can't be a medical reason because he (Remy) never failed a medical, I just can't believe what I've read and heard."
Instead, Liverpool went for Mario Balotelli, whom they deemed as less risky business.
The controversial Italian has been a total flop. To make matters worse, Daniel Sturridge was out for a long spell earlier in the season due to injuries, while Rickie Lambert and Borini were unable to make the step up in Brendan Rodgers' team.
Without a reliable striker Rodgers could count on, the Reds picked up only six wins in their first 17 league games, leaving them with too much ground to make up in the race for a top-four spot.
Even a 13-game unbeaten streak doesn't look enough now, as consecutive losses to Manchester United and Arsenal in their last two fixtures still leave them seven points adrift of fourth-placed Man City, who have a match in hand.
Whether Remy would have made an impact at Liverpool is up for debate. But, going by how horribly things went for them in those first few months of the campaign, he couldn't have made things worse.
What's certain is that he is making a difference at Chelsea.
And it's not making either Liverpool or Rodgers look good.
Mourinho sweats on Costa injury
"We are confident. We are first in the league and we take game after game. We have the title in our hands. We want to bring the trophy to Stamford Bridge." - Eden Hazard (above, scoring the penalty), believes Chelsea have the Premier League title in their grasp after beating Stoke. - PHOTO: AFP
11: Diego Costa (in blue, with Jose Mourinho) was introduced at half-time but lasted just 11 minutes. - PHOTO: REUTERS
Jose Mourinho expects to be without Diego Costa for up to a month of Chelsea's Premier League title run-in, including the crucial contests with Manchester United and Arsenal.
Costa was not considered fit enough to start the 2-1 win over Stoke, which sent the Blues seven points clear.
The striker was introduced at half-time but lasted just 11 minutes as his fragile hamstrings forced his withdrawal.
Mourinho would not be drawn on an exact prognosis, but suggested Costa will miss the April 18 clash with third-placed United, which is followed eight days later by a trip to second-placed Arsenal.
"It's too early," Mourinho said.
"He has to go home, he has to wait 48 hours. He has to do all the scans again.
"He will be out for sure a couple of weeks, but we have seven weeks until the end of the season.
"Seven weeks and eight matches. For sure, in half of it he has to be with us."
Chelsea responded from conceding a Charlie Adam goal from his own half and losing Costa to beat Stoke and move seven points clear in the title race.
Stoke midfielder Adam's long-range strike soared over Thibaut Courtois to cancel out Eden Hazard's penalty opener, before Loic Remy struck the winner after Costa had come and gone.
Mourinho insisted his half-time introduction was not a risk, as Costa was fit to be included.
"I don't say a gamble because we did every test, we did every scan," the Blues boss added.
"The player trained two days 100 per cent with the team, the medical department was convinced that he was ready.
"The player was convinced he was ready, not for 90 minutes, but he was ready to play and to help the team.
"Sometimes as a manager I have to risk things. Medical departments have to do the same, if they want to be top medical departments like our department is.
"The safe medical department cannot work with me. People with fear, afraid to risk, cannot work with me.
"My medical department is fantastic, they do fantastically well for us.
"Today, things didn't happen the best way, but I'm happy with that, because it's football."
On the title race, Mourinho insisted Chelsea's focus is on themselves.
"There is pressure because we need to win six matches and we know that," Mourinho said.
"We're not doing our countdown based on the points the second, the third, the fourth teams lose.
"Our countdown must be made of our victories."
Stoke are 10th after a third straight loss, which came after an "uncharacteristic" Asmir Begovic error, when the goalkeeper rolled the ball out poorly, leading to Remy's winner.
"On the day, he had a fantastic performance," Stoke manager Mark Hughes said.
"That was his one mistake, and Chelsea had the ability and talent to capitalise on it.
"When they get in a winning position, it's usually very difficult to stop them." - PA Sport.
"He can score every time when he’s on the pitch. This guy deserves to score a lot of goals."
- Eden Hazard, on Blues striker Loic Remy