Everton at Chelsea: Match Report

Scott Heavey

Late lapse of concentration costs Everton all three points.

For long periods of the game, Everton had control of this fixture. It was reminiscent of the games the Blues had played at other long-haunted grounds earlier this season, Old Trafford and then the Emirates. They passed the ball well, holding the line solid in the back and letting dual pivots Gareth Barry and James McCarthy dictate the pace of the game. Chelsea's vaunted midfield trio of Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard that has been at the heart of all their creative play was largely subdued by Everton's muscular approach. However, in the end it was veteran leadership and just that little bit of knowhow that champions nowadays are moulded of that made all the difference on Saturday.

Roberto Martinez has spoken about sending out teams with the mentality to get all three points from games at the other top seven teams. Ross Barkley has been ineffective since his return from injury and Everton's attacking endeavours have often faltered as a result. Leon Osman started as the attacking forward with Steven Naismith in the striking role after Lacina Traore pulled a suspect hamstring in the warmups. Naismith has seen an uptick in form in the last few games and there was hope that he could replicate his winner against Jose Mourinho's men from earlier in the season.

While there were few half-chances in the opening period, Everton had the upper hand in the game. However, Everton have struggled to create genuine goalscoring opportunities since the close of the January transfer window. How Martinez handled that might yet determine how the Toffees end this season. Romelu Lukaku is closer to fitness but would have been ineligible to play in this fixture. Hope remains once he is back that some of those woes would be cured with his return.

The home side came into the game later in a thoroughly frustrating first half. Eden Hazard has led the charge for the Londoners this season but was completely blanketed time and again by McCarthy. Oscar had a forgettable first half as Everton terrified him to the extent that Mourinho pulled the plug on his adventure at halftime itself. Ramires came on and his physical presence wrenched back the reins of this game. The Special One has been known for his technical nous and he made an interesting substitution throwing on Fernando Torres to join Samuel Eto'o in a two-striker formation, albeit for just seven minutes.

However, this was not the change that won the game at the Bridge. The last fifteen minutes saw a bit of desperate defending for the visitors, Andre Schurrle shot over, a freekick from Frank Lampard was cleared away, and Ramires saw his shot fizz past the wrong side of the post. Ramires came in for a lot of criticism in Chelsea's last game when he was accused of diving to win the late penalty that gave Chelsea the equalizer. When in the 93rd minute the Brazilian went flailing after minimal contact from Phil Jagielka down the left wing, there was a sinking feeling for Everton fans that this would be the defining moment of this game.

Lampard is a renowned Everton-killer and as he swung his freekick into the area behind the Everton backline, another old horse John Terry charged past to distract an otherwise excellent Tim Howard, and the ball bounced behind the goalie and into the net. Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin could only look at each other in disappointment as all their excellence was wasted.

A late corner for the away side only showed Everton's lack of bite from setpieces as it was cleared away before Lee Probert blew the final whistle. In the postmatch interviews, Martinez masked his irritation with his trademark knowing smile, saying that Chelsea had used ‘every trick in the book to get advantageous situations’, that ‘it wasn’t a free-kick at all’ as Ramires had ‘looked for contact’. He went on to say that Chelsea’s 74-match unbeaten home run ‘must be down to more than football’ and that referees faced ‘an impossible job’. It was just that kind of day for Everton.

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