They say it’s the toughest away day in Premier League, the true test of any would-be pretender to the crown, an unforgiving venue where a team’s mettle is pushed to the limit.
A cold afternoon in Stoke is no place to hide. Few were more aware of that than league-leaders Chelsea: they’d been bullied into defeat there twice in the last three seasons.
Chelsea’s Willian, however, would not have been phased. He has come through far bigger tests in the last few months.
He’d seen his minutes reduced drastically due to the form of Pedro, and he'd become the first, and only, player to lose his place in the Brazil team under the current management
Starting roles paled into insignificance, however, when contrasted against the personal pain he’d been forced to overcome following the loss of his mother, who’d had such a huge impact on his career.
So even those cheering on the members of the chasing pack from whom Chelsea have now opened up a 10-point gap couldn’t begrudge the 28-year-old his wonderfully-taken opener on Saturday.
Willian’s quick thinking saw him bamboozle Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant just 13 minutes into the contest, firing a whipped free-kick inside the near post when the other 21 on the field were waiting for a cross.
It saw him set a remarkable record, too: all of Willian’s last 19 goals for Chelsea in all competitions have been from direct free-kicks. It was also his sixth Premier League goal of the season - his best tally in a single campaign in the competition.
It inspired Chelsea to a 2-1 win, their 19th victory in their last 22 games in what was another huge step towards what looks like an inevitable Premier League title. And it earned Willian a score of 91/100 on the Goal Pressure Index, presented by Sure and powered by Opta data, which provides the first ever system to measure and rate a team and player’s performance under pressure.
The Goal Pressure Index uses more than 750,000 data points as well as factors including league position, point in the season and the opposition to calculate a rating out of 100 for every Premier League player every week.
Willian wasn’t the only one making history, however. Romelu Lukaku enjoyed a wonderful final few minutes of Everton’s 4-0 defeat of Hull City, hitting an injury-time brace.
The Belgium international's double took him to 21 goals for the season, making him the first Everton player to reach 20-plus league goals in a single campaign since Gary Lineker in 1985-86 (30 goals).
Lukaku is now the fourth player in Premier League history to score 80-plus goals in the competition before turning 24 years old.
His herorics saw him grab a Pressure Index score of 91 as Everton recorded six successive Premier League victories at Goodison Park for the first time since April 2014.
The three points moved Ronald Koeman’s side level with sixth-placed Arsenal on 50 points, sparking hopes of a late charge for Champions League qualification.
Lukaku was joined in the Pressure Index top 10 this week by his team-mate Enner Valencia, who netted Everton’s second of the afternoon just 69 seconds after his introduction as a second-half substitute to earn a score of 88/100.
Another fantastic performance from Chelsea’s N'Golo Kante saw him join Willian in the top 10 with a Pressure Index rating of 87/100, while Hal Robson-Kanu and Nacer Chadli also scored well after inspiring their side to an impressive 3-1 victory over Arsenal.