Chelsea 1 - 0 Everton
Everton fell to their third consecutive away defeat to a rival for the Champions League qualification slots and, thanks to Manchester United's win at Crystal Palace, slipped out of the top six for the first time since November.
Like the narrow loss to Tottenham a fortnight ago, this 1-0 defeat to Chelsea was hugely disappointing and felt like something of a mugging given the level of effort and the performance put on by Roberto Martinez's side but, once again, it was starkly illustrative of the Blues' impotence in the final third. As at White Hart Lane, Everton were well positioned to pinch a victory in the late stages of the game but found no inspiration from the substitutes' bench and succumbed to a single second-half goal. That it came from an individual error by Tim Howard and not some brilliance from the opposition made it all the more galling.
Jose Mourinho's men may have been more deserving of the points than had Spurs, given that they steadily increased the pressure and at least forced Howard into a terrific double-save around the hour mark but Chelsea will nonetheless feel as though they got away with one when viewing the game as a whole.
Everton finished the game with the lion's share of possession, largely testament to an impressive first-half where, not for the first time on the home turf of better-endowed opposition, they took the game to the hosts but would count the cost of not fashioning enough chances or taking the few they did. Once again the match was the Blues' season in microcosm – plenty of lovely football underpinning a good start but one ultimately undermined by a failure to score. Like a boxer who can hold his own for 12 rounds and soak up plenty of punishment but just doesn't possess that knockout punch to put his opponent away.
Though the Champions League looked a distinct possibility earlier in the campaign, once again our challenge started to come off the rails during the gruelling festive period as injuries began to mount and the pressure on what remains a small core squad mounted. Echoing last year's failure to strengthen sufficiently during the transfer window, the chance to bolster the chase for Europe passed on 31st January and given the sale of Nikica Jelavic, Lacina Traore's continuing injury problems and confirmation that neither Kevin Mirallas nor Steven Naismith have proved to be suitable replacements for a genuinely consistent goalscoring threat, Martinez's insistence that Everton would be stronger by the closure of the window than when it opened rings a little hollow.
Whatever the reasons for the Spaniard not bringing in another attacking option before the deadline when he knew he would be without Romelu Lukaku for a month, be they due to financial restrictions or a lack of quailty options being available, it effectively ended our hopes for the top four. It felt that way then and results since have borne that out, with the result being that Evertonians who clung to the hope that the new manager could somehow gatecrash the top four in his first season have had to adopt Martinez's long view.
In that context, this defeat at Stamford Bridge and the 20-year winless run it perpetuates was encouraging once you get past the frustrating manner in which it played out. For the second time this season, Martinez's Everton came to the home of the League leaders and showed that they have the ability and the confidence to match the best teams in terms of passing and ball-retention. They just need a cutting edge in attacking midfield and up front.
For long periods of the first half, the Blues were playing easily the better football and carrying the greater threat in the final third with Chelsea and their galaxy of jaw-droppingly expensive talent restricted to only one real dangerous moment when Samuel Eto'o managed to shake off Sylvain Distin's shackles and forced a parrying save from Tim Howard.
Though Mourinho's team had started purposefully, with Eden Hazard and Willian looking dangerous in the early going, they merely bookended the first 45 minutes with some tame efforts from the edge of the area that either went wide, were comfortably gathered by Howard or, in one instance, deflected over.
In between, it was Everton who were dictating the game and demonstrating the greater technique with the ball. Gareth Barry in particular was excellent in this period, Steven Pienaar was inventive and probing on the left side of the field and Steven Naismith a willing runner up front in the absence of Traore who felt his hamstring in the warm-up. But for all their impressive possession, the Blues created just three openings of note against the top-flight's stingiest defence.
Leon Osman, starting in place of Ross Barkley, had the best of them, ending a sumptuous passing move in the 12th minute with a drilled shot from Steven Naismith's lay-off that Petr Cech had to palm over the bar. Five minutes later, Kevin Mirallas had to wait for a bouncing ball to drop inside the Chelsea area but he got a half-volley off that deflected behind off Gary Cahill.
Mirallas had another good opportunity in first-half stoppage time when Osman flicked Pienaar's cross into his path but though the Belgian had plenty of time to set himself, he made an awful mess of his shot from 20 yards out. It more or less summed up Mirallas' afternoon – reminscent of some of his early-season form, he was well below his best when the stage was set for him to really impress.
Truth be told, the half-time interval seemed to kill Everton's momentum because they simply lacked any attacking intensity or fluidity in the second half. The first few minutes after the restart were disjointed from their perspective and Chelsea began to increase the pressure on Howard's goal, starting in the 50th minute when he had to block Frank Lampard's shot and Distin had to be similarly alert to get in the way of the rebound.
Osman was visibly fading as the game approached the hour mark, perhaps summed up by the ease with which he was caught and then out-muscled by Nemanja Matic in a foot-race for a throughball towards the Chelsea area. Nevertheless, the diminutive midfielder almost broke the deadlock a minute later when his shot deflected off Mirallas' heel but Cech was alive to it and turned the ball around the post before it could sneak in.
At the other end, Howard then made that excellent double-save that looked for so long as though it had preserved a point, stopping Hazard's low shot with a firm one-handed save and then racing across his line to fling himself at Branislav Ivanovich's powerful half-volley at the back post.
With the game still level with 63 minutes gone and Martinez's gameplan still intact, the manager made his first offensive moves aimed at winning the match with Barkley coming on to replace Osman. Gerard Deulofeu would follow 12 minutes later but neither player's youthful exuberance made any difference. On the contrary; both were guilty of running straight into trouble and giving up precious possession in the Chelsea half and, in particular, Barkley, offering further evidence that his form has gone to pieces since his foot injury in January, was just dreadful.
By the time Pienaar was withdrawn in favour of Aiden McGeady with 10 minutes left, the Blues' had visibly lost their shape and cohesion in midfield and with the ball coming back on the defence more and more often, the number of niggly, unnecessary and (naturally) erroneously awarded fouls in dangerous areas near their penalty box increased.
Still, with Mourinho's own substitute Fernando Torres again making a mockery of his £50m price tag with some terrible finishing and Chelsea still relying mostly on longer-range efforts – Ramires did go close with a well-struck effort that flashed past Howard's right-hand opst in the 90th minute – it looked as though another draw was the cards.
Unfortunately, there would be a cruel twist in injury time from another one of those annoying infringements in a dangerous area in Everton terrirory. Phil Jagielka, otherwise so impressive, was adjudged to have clipped Ramires on the Chelsea left which set up a set-piece opportunity for Lampard to swing a wicked ball into the six-yard box in front of Howard. With more single-mindedness and bravery, it should have been a routine save for the American but, perhaps with too much attention paid to John Terry lunging in in front of him, he took his eye off the ball which ricocheted off his arm and into the net.
1-0 Chelsea and a potentially vital goal in terms of the Premier League championship race. For Everton, surely the death knell for their Champions League hopes this season, although that already looked like a tall order and a point from this game, no matter how well deserved and how psychologically important, was not going to alter that fact very much; they needed all three. The FA Cup takes precedence now, though, as does getting Lukaku back fit and among the goals.
Martinez will, no doubt, view this performance and defeat as another learning moment for his team as they continue their development under this leadership and methods which, it's sometimes easy to forget, have only been in place for nine months. His challenge – apart from scouting that missing 20-a-season striker and a reliable, match-winning attacking midfielder – is to knit together the things his team does so well into a succession of games and across 90 minutes.
So often, his Everton are impressive in one half but go off the boil in the second and lack the intensity, urgency and punch to drive home a result against the teams above them in the table. So often they lack enough bodies going forward or the confidence to play a pass through a defence rather than around it, electing to go sideways as opposed to driving forwards. That will hopefully come as he continues to mold and shape his squad and he will be helped by the fact that the remainder of the Blues' schedule is fairly kind which offers plenty of scope to pile on some points and at least put pressure on the teams above them in the push for Europe.
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996 Posted 24/02/2014 at 00:00:03
For me, however, the tempo is just that bit too slow and the play is predictable. We need to vary our play, attacking with more pace down the centre and down the flanks, one creates opportunity for the other. Pace prevents our opponents from regrouping, space remains available for the striker. Break the momentum, as Pienaar and McCarthy have been doing lately, and we end up running parallel with the 18-yard box without the vision to reverse the ball in to those runs by Naismith and Traore of late. End result: too many 20-yard shots, off balance and off target. 192 square feet of target at that.
I'd like to see the players mixing it up more, whipping crosses into the box and picking up the pieces. I'd like to see darting penetration into the box creating panic and forcing risky tackles: the more incident, the more opportunity. What I don't see is a steely determination to attack the goal come what may. Add that to our build-up play and then we're talking.
008 Posted 24/02/2014 at 06:29:19
We seem to flatter to deceive. We don't seem to work opposing keepers as hard as we should. On the other hand, Howard is often tested from distance, hoping he spills, allowing follow-ups.
Meanwhile, our midfield seem reluctant to join in really offensive moves! In fact, McCarthy rarely crosses the halfway line! I understand he is probably playing to orders? But even Barry has only done it once to score a great goal at Goodison.
Hopefully Lukaku coming back will help, but we need more fire power... even Seamus getting back on the scoreboard.
011 Posted 24/02/2014 at 07:06:23
After the Spurs defeat yesterday we can still catch them and move back ahead of Manchester United.. To finish 5th would be an achievement given the lack of spending. However, I for one would rather finish 7th and see the team come out of the tunnel on Cup Final day.
031 Posted 24/02/2014 at 09:38:12
I really cant believe how we have fallen so many points behind Liverpool over the last month or so, at the start of the year I said that I really believe that 4th place is anybody's, and you felt that all it would take is going on some kind of good run of form and stringing a few wins together, that seems to be Liverpool, I don't want to even think about them winning the title so lets not go there.
I think thats where we have really slipped up, we don't seem capable of putting back to back wins together anymore, and certainly don't seem capable of winning three or four on the spin.
Too often, and we said the same about this time last season, Everton is just all about being hard to beat and not winning enough.
Look at the win total of the others above us and then see we have the 12 wins, to finish in the top 4 you probably need to win at least 22 matches, our final win tally for each season is usually aound 16 wins and loads of draws.
Hand on heart I am struggling to see how we can knock Arsenal out of the Cup next Saturday, maybe I am hoping we can somehow hold on to a 0-0 or get a 1-1 and bring them back here.
Its just hard to see where any serious goal threat is coming from lately and hearing that Arsenal concede so few goals at the Emirates makes the job even harder.
060 Posted 24/02/2014 at 12:53:35
It would be so disappointing to miss out on Europe all together. If we cant finish above Liverpool then I at least want to finish above Man Utd.
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