José Mourinho is supposed to be the man with all the answers, yet as he reflected on this dramatic defeat for Chelsea, the Portuguese was the picture of cluelessness. His mood darkened by the visitors' failure to "kill the game" after an early period of near domination, the manager admitted he had run out of ways to coax a greater return from those whose job it is to score goals for the team.
Although publicly Mourinho refuses to castigate Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto'o – "they are giving their best so I can't criticise" – privately the manager is known to have become increasingly exasperated with their collective return. To put it into context, Romelu Lukaku, who Mourinho allowed to join Everton on loan in September, has scored exactly twice as many league goals this season as Torres, Ba and Eto'o combined.
It was perhaps unfair for the spotlight to once again fall on that trio after a match in which there was a collective failure on the part of those in blue to seal a fourth league win in succession, after André Schürrle had given them the lead with a neatly taken finish after only 10 minutes. But given all three featured in the contest – Torres from the start, with Ba and Eto'o coming on as second-half substitutes – and rarely looked like adding to a paltry total of four league goals between them this season, such scrutiny was less than surprising, especially with Mourinho making his concern over their form so evident.
"I don't know," he said, simply and grimly, when asked how he planned to increase his strikers' scoring rates. "I work, we try our best, the strikers try their best, so I don't know what to do.
"If you tell me [Sergio] Agüero has scored 10 or 12 goals, [Wayne] Rooney eight or 10, [Oliver] Giroud eight or 10, [Daniel] Sturridge eight or 10, [Luis] Suárez 10 or 12, and ask if I would like my strikers to score eight, 10, 12 goals, then yes, I would. If they had we would be top of the league. That's the reality."
Mourinho then reiterated Chelsea's plan not to sign a forward during next month's transfer window, with manager and club believing there will not be a player available who is of the standard required and would not be cup-tied for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Many observers would point out that Radamel Falcao, who Chelsea were interested in signing during the summer, fulfils both criteria but the view from inside Stamford Bridge is that the Colombian will not be allowed to leave Monaco before the end of the season at the earliest.
So it is a case of Mourinho sticking with what he has. In fairness to Torres, he has shown glimpses of his former, glorious best this season, scoring five times in all competitions, only for injuries and suspensions to check his momentum. The 29-year-old was anonymous against Stoke City, however, failing to manage a single shot on goal before being replaced by Ba on 59 minutes. He and Eto'o subsequently registered one shot between them – and even that was off-target.
But, as Mourinho acknowledged, responsibility for this defeat – Chelsea's third in the league this season and one he claimed had put their title challenge "in trouble" – cannot be pinned on the strikers alone. There was a general drop in focus and intent that allowed Stoke, who were overwhelmed in the early stages by the movement of Schürrle, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard (Chelsea's top scorer in all competitions with eight goals), to come back into the contest. That their equaliser, by Peter Crouch, resulted from Chelsea's inability to properly defend a corner only added to Mourinho's frustrations, given he had been critical of such failings during last week's win at Sunderland.
Galvanised by Crouch's strike, Stoke were much improved after the break, taking the lead through Stephen Ireland's curled shot on 50 minutes only to see Schürrle strike again soon after. That appeared to be that as a frantic encounter edged towards stoppage time but Oussama Assaidi, on a season's loan from Liverpool, lashed an unstoppable winner past Petr Cech.
With that, Stoke achieved their first victory over Chelsea since 1975. "A result like this gives what I'm trying to do here more credibility," said Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager. "I'm delighted with what we did against one of the top teams in the Premier League."
As things stand, Chelsea are the third best team in the division, with Mourinho claiming it was always foolish to describe them as favourites to win the championship. As ever, though, there is pressure to deliver, with three men in particular expected to do more for the cause.
Man of the match Stephen Ireland (Stoke City)