Roberto Martinez brought back Tim Howard and Ross Barkley whilst handing a debut to Aaron ‘Buzzing’ Lennon. The unfortunate Robles along with Mirallas and McCarthy made was for the trio. Shape wise it was more forward thinking than the dreary derby with an extra forward player and a return to 4-2-3-1.
Chelsea remained without piss boiling neanderthal Costa (suspended) and his snide sidekick Fabregas, which was a positive given that they absolutely destroyed us at Goodison back in September. The increasingly tedious Mourinho opted to go with Remy up front with Willian, Hazard and Cuadrado in behind in a similar 4-2-3-1.
Everton settled into the game well and had the best chance of the half inside the first fifteen minutes. The move started when Gareth Barry regained possession well on our 18 yard line from Remy and launched a long ball to Lukaku to forage for. Decent work then ensued from Lennon and Barkley to engineer an opening for Lukaku 20 yards from goal on his right foot. Cech wrongly anticipated that the ball would go across him but smartly left out a leg and repelled the goalbound effort. With Zouma’s pace on the right of Chelsea’s defence the ball down the left side of Terry looked like an area Lukaku could expose if played him in correctly.
For the first 20 minutes we dominated the ball (60%) albeit most of our possession was in Chelsea’s half with our hosts controlling the space better with significantly more territory than us.Chelsea kept three players on our 18 yard line when Howard had it so there wasn’t really much chance of us playing out from the back.
Matic is a monster for hoovering up second balls and when possession was turned over in our half it was inevitably the big Serbian who was the winner of the ball, predominantly feeding Willian who in turn would look to Hazard down the left to run at Besic. The Bosnian was increasingly on a sticky wicket after his early yellow card for a foul on Hazard and his predicament wasn’t helped by Gareth Barry also going into the book for a foul on Cuadrado. This consequently put both our defensive midfielders in a difficult position when Chelsea broke as, with our wingbacks upfield, Lennon and Naismith increasingly had to ‘put in a shift’ defensively more than they would like so that Besic/Barry weren’t left 1v1.
Despite being 50-50 in terms of possession at half time we had for the most part struggled to get out of our half and when we did Naismith often chose the wrong option.
Besic’s high risk strategy cost him his place in the team for the second half with McCarthy coming on to replace him.
After the break it was less fluid on the ball from the Blues and more about a rearguard action, which to be fair was superbly marshalled by Everton’s best two players on the night, Phil Jagielka and John Stones. Our problem was that we just couldn’t get any decent possession to relieve the pressure on the duo and whereas possession in the first half was 50-50 it increasingly became a landslide in Chelsea’s favour after the break.
We did have some decent moments, albeit they were few and far between.
In a rare counter attacking situation Barkley’s pass into Lukaku’s feet was good, however the Belgian’s run was ill-timed and the linesman correctly flagged him offside. After having the best chance in the first half the big man then had the best in the second, and this one was even better. After Oviedo’s initial centre had been blocked, McCarthy superbly picked him out again down the Chelsea right and the Costa Rican’s delivery was of pinpoint accuracy. Unfortunately Lukaku failed to steer the ball away from Cech whose save – again with his feet – was pretty impressive.
Aaron Lennon endured a mixed full debut, but after the break it was more bad than good. His major issue seems to be that he’s too ‘head down’ and whilst getting the ball into the box is refreshing – and something we’ve been in dire need of all season – he’ll need to lift his head up more before putting the ball into the box if he’s to make an impact at L4.
Mourinho now made a double change, bringing on Fabregas and Drogba for Remy and Cuadrado in an attempt to get the ball into the box earlier as prior to this it had been too slow with our defensive shape rigid enough to repel anything that was thrown at us.
Chelsea had dominated possession and the shot count, but there wasn’t a great deal of ingenuity in the final third by the champions elect. Their 45 crosses was a sign of both a lack of ideas and desperation, however as the game edged towards the 90th minute there was almost an inevitability that they would eek one over the line somehow (as they did in this fixture last season) and so it proved.
The trigger was a second booking for Gareth Barry, who I thought had a decent game and won more tackles and interceptions than any player from either side. His red card led to a free kick down our right side which was duly punted into our box.
Willian was to prove the match winner, pinging in a great shot that went through a ruck of bodies and inside Howard’s left hand post after the free kick had initially been cleared. In true Everton style Ivanovic was involved in creating the opportunity after a minute earlier attempting a WWE style manoeuvre on McCarthy for which the block headed, balding tramp received no punishment.
Howard had previously made 3 smart saves from Matic, Willian and Remy and whilst the goal did come from a deflection of Naismith there will be questions over his punch which proceeded it – legitimate scrutiny given Robles recent run of clean sheets which preceded Howard’s return. You could also raise the question as to why Martinez left Barry on when he was finely dangling on a yellow and instead took Barkley off.
This was a really good defensive display from the Blues with some stylish and often stubborn defensive play from the backline. Alas, as with the Liverpool game we were unable to link midfield to attack well enough and despite having the best 2 chances of the game there was precious little else from us on the ball and this inability to relieve the pressure on the defence with any sustained periods of possession in the opposition half meant that a Chelsea goal was always likely.
Two wins in sixteen isn’t great and whilst the defensive displays have been much improved since the horror of Hull we still seem desperately short going forward with the conundrum of finding a balance between the two continuing to elude Martinez.