Stoke held Chelsea to a frustrating goalless draw as their resolute defensive performance kept the visitors' attacking talents at bay.
Fernando Torres was Chelsea's sharpest player during a quiet first half as Stoke were limited to set-piece scraps.
The Blues improved in the second half and John Obi Mikel went close before substitute Nicolas Anelka's shot was tipped onto the bar by Asmir Begovic.
In a game of few chances, Chelsea will also point to three penalty appeals.
Marc Wilson's trip on Frank Lampard was the most credible of those but they were a long way short of their form from the beginning of last season, when they began the campaign with two 6-0 wins.
'Not bad' start for Villas-Boas
The result will also call into question Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas's decision to start with Torres instead of Didier Drogba.
For periods of the game, however, there were instances when it looked like the confidence had returned to the Spaniard's game and he was certainly among the better performers.
The striker's link-up play was sharp, plus he was willing to make intelligent runs into space to receive the ball, and his growing influence was underlined when Ryan Shawcross hacked down the 27-year-old for a deserved booking.
But there were only glimpses of any urgency from Torres's team-mates as Stoke, who handed a Premier League debut to Jonathan Woodgate, defended stoically.
Jose Bosingwa went close with what looked like a cross which was heading for the top corner, but Villas-Boas appeared agitated on the sidelines, not only by his side's lack of penetration but also Stoke's muscular threat from Rory Delap's long throw-ins.
Ramires tried to inject some energy from midfield when he burst into the box but his cross whistled across the six-yard line, and Torres made a weaving run before a timely Shawcross tackle prevented him from shooting.
The former Liverpool striker had a penalty shout at the start of the second half when Shawcross appeared to trip him on the edge of the box and it began a period in which Chelsea began to impose themselves at last.
Pulis 'desperate' for more quality
First, Torres failed to connect following John Terry's header from a corner, Lampard had another penalty shout when he appeared to be brought down, and Mikel almost scored his first Premier League goal for Chelsea when his dipping strike was tipped over.
Florent Malouda was replaced by Anelka and his rising shot was expertly tipped onto the bar by Begovic, while Salomon Kalou had a header saved from Torres's cross.
Drogba was then introduced, to cheers from the Chelsea fans, and fired a dangerous free-kick at goal.
Yet as Stoke held firm, the visitors appeared to become frustrated as the game entered the final stages, with Lampard picking up an uncharacteristic booking.
Potters boss Tony Pulis cautioned before the game that expectations may be too high at the Britannia this season, but on this evidence they will once again be one of the Premier League's tougher opponents.
His only worry was the shoulder injury to Matthew Etherington, who was taken off after an hour. Pulis said the winger would go for an x-ray.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis:
"The first half I thought we gave as good as we got then second half they got a foothold in the game and it was there for everybody to see they quality they've got and the depth they've got, when you see Anelka, Drogba and [Yossi] Benayoun coming off the bench.
"They've got the squad to do well, they'll be in the top three again this year."
Unfair challenge on Nicolas Anelka by Robert Huth results in a free kick.
Nicolas Anelka takes a shot. Asmir Begovic makes a save. Salomon Kalou takes a shot. Save by Asmir Begovic.
Substitution Rory Delap leaves the field to be replaced by Danny Pugh.
The offside flag is raised against Ashley Cole. Asmir Begovic takes the free kick.
Shot by Jermaine Pennant. Blocked by Ashley Cole.
Asmir Begovic takes the free kick.
Booking Ashley Cole is cautioned.
Jermaine Pennant fouled by Ashley Cole, the ref awards a free kick.
Substitution Nicolas Anelka comes on in place of Florent Malouda.
Shot from 30 yards by Florent Malouda. Save by Asmir Begovic.
Substitution Matthew Etherington goes off and Dean Whitehead comes on.
Fernando Torres takes a shot. Blocked by Matthew Etherington.
Shot by Florent Malouda. Blocked by Ryan Shawcross.
Kenwyne Jones takes a shot. John Terry gets a block in.
Unfair challenge on Kenwyne Jones by Alex results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Jermaine Pennant.
Florent Malouda takes a outswinging corner from the left by-line to the near post, John Terry takes a shot. Mikel takes a shot. Save made by Asmir Begovic. Corner from the right by-line taken by Florent Malouda, Kenwyne Jones makes a clearance.
Ramires produces a left-footed shot from just outside the penalty box that goes wide left of the target.
Florent Malouda takes a shot. Blocked by Jonathan Woodgate. Outswinging corner taken by Florent Malouda, save by Asmir Begovic.
Salomon Kalou takes a shot. Ryan Shawcross gets a block in.
Shot by Glenn Whelan from outside the box goes over the target.
Glenn Whelan gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Frank Lampard. Frank Lampard takes the direct free kick.
Matthew Etherington takes a inswinging corner to the near post, Florent Malouda manages to make a clearance.
The second half kicks off.
45:00 +1:35 Half time
Half Time The referee calls an end to the first half.
Shot by Fernando Torres from deep inside the penalty area misses to the left of the goal.
Jonathan Woodgate concedes a free kick for a foul on Fernando Torres. Frank Lampard restarts play with the free kick.
John Terry gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jonathan Walters. Matthew Etherington crosses the ball in from the free kick, clearance made by Mikel.
Fernando Torres is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Asmir Begovic restarts play with the free kick.
Kenwyne Jones has an effort at goal from outside the box missing to the wide left of the goal.
Unfair challenge on Petr Cech by Ryan Shawcross results in a free kick. Petr Cech takes the free kick.
Corner taken by Jermaine Pennant, clearance made by Ramires.
Corner taken by Jermaine Pennant, clearance made by John Terry.
Ramires concedes a free kick for a foul on Marc Wilson. Marc Wilson takes the direct free kick.
Ramires fouled by Rory Delap, the ref awards a free kick. Jose Bosingwa restarts play with the free kick.
Kenwyne Jones is flagged offside by the assistant referee. The ball is swung over by Jose Bosingwa, Asmir Begovic makes a save. Jose Bosingwa takes the indirect free kick.
Florent Malouda fouled by Robert Huth, the ref awards a free kick. Frank Lampard delivers the ball from the free kick right-footed from left wing, clearance made by Rory Delap.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Salomon Kalou on Jermaine Pennant. Marc Wilson takes the free kick.
The ball is sent over by Florent Malouda.
Foul by Robert Huth on Fernando Torres, free kick awarded. John Terry takes the free kick.
A cross is delivered by Jonathan Walters, save by Petr Cech.
Foul by Ramires on Kenwyne Jones, free kick awarded. Marc Wilson takes the free kick.
Jermaine Pennant produces a cross, Petr Cech makes a save.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Matthew Etherington by Ashley Cole. Asmir Begovic takes the direct free kick.
John Terry concedes a free kick for a foul on Kenwyne Jones. Free kick crossed left-footed by Matthew Etherington, Jose Bosingwa makes a clearance.
Header from deep inside the area by Robert Huth goes harmlessly over the crossbar.
Fernando Torres produces a right-footed shot from just outside the penalty box that misses to the left of the goal.
Ashley Cole restarts play with the free kick.
Booking Ryan Shawcross is shown a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.
Fernando Torres fouled by Ryan Shawcross, the ref awards a free kick.
Corner taken by Frank Lampard from the right by-line, Unfair challenge on Asmir Begovic by John Terry results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Asmir Begovic.
Jose Bosingwa takes a shot. Save by Asmir Begovic.
Outswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Frank Lampard, Ryan Shawcross manages to make a clearance.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Jermaine Pennant from the left by-line, free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Petr Cech by Robert Huth. Petr Cech takes the free kick.
The referee gets the game underway.
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