Teams and Selection
The Toffees were without four nailed on starters with Mirallas, Neville, Fellaini and Gibson all out due to injury and suspension. Moyes sprung a surprise in terms of shape by playing Pienaar central behind Jelavic and Anichebe on the left. Naismith came in on the right side of midfield with Heitinga coming in at centre back and Jagielka switching to right back. Chelsea started out in what looked like a 4-3-3 with Mata right and Ramires through the middle which was scrapped fairly early on moving to a 4-2-3-1 with Mata central behind Torres and Ramires as expected on the right to reign in Baines lateral marauding.
Possession / Territory Data
Chelsea had more possession overall (54%) and more final third possession (53.5%) although we had more touches of the ball (226 v 204) in Chelsea’s defensive third than they did in ours. The game’s attacking moves were almost all exclusively down the Baines / Ramires flank with 10 of the 19 chances created by both sides coming from down this flank. Mata, Baines and Osman were all central to this and the trio had the joint most final third touches (40).
Everton Storm First Half
The Blues were dominant in the first half with midfield schemers Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar almost exclusively running our offensive game as has been the case since Fellaini’s suspension. The half was characterised by enterprising play from us down the left when on the ball and high octane pressure when the ball was lost.
Pienaar and Anichebe were interchanging well in the role of wide left and attacking central midfield, a tactic used rather disastrously in last season’s 0-3 reverse at Anfield. In the first half in particular, Heitinga would get the ball on the right of central defence and hit diagonals for Anichebe to attack in a physical miss-match against Azpilicueta. The Dutchman’s long ball accuracy was the best on the pitch and Anichebe won more aerials (6) than anyone from either side.
Pienaar’s role centrally was twofold; firstly he would look to link midfield and attack and secondly when not on the ball he would press Chelsea’ defence >attack linkman Luiz in central midfield. The results were impressive. Firstly, the South African opened the scoring from a central position, registering the quickest toffee goal in the Premier League since Yakubu struck after 47 seconds against Portsmouth four years ago. The move owed much to Pienaar in its inception, getting the ball centrally and playing Jagielka in behind a day dreaming Ashley Cole. Jags is a good crosser for a defender and when his centre was headed onto the post by Anichebe it fell nicely for Pienaar to slot home for the second season running in this fixture. We have now scored in the last 17 league games which is our best since 24 in a row in the 85-86 season. In terms of his off the ball duties, Pienaar was equally industrious in the defensive zone and attempted more tackles (6) than any player on the pitch.
As has been the case all season, our defence was unable to withstand any form of pressure as Chelsea came back on us in the second period as our all action high pressure game began to dwindle with fatigue becoming a factor. Ramires is a renowned flank shuttler with a great ‘engine’ and the fact he hadn’t started any of Chelsea’s Christmas programme with Lampard also having a week off was evident in their energy levels as the game developed. In comparison our key attacking triumvirate of Pienaar, Osman and Baines had played pretty much every minute in all 3 of our games in the last 8 days.
Chelsea crept back into the contest just before half time with Ramires the key man in the visitor’s comeback. Firstly, he was given the time to take a touch, control and pick out Lampard who ghosted into the box unmarked to head Chelsea level. Ramires was again involved in the second goal as slack marking again enabled Lampard to prod home from close range after a Mata delivery.
Moyes switched to 4-3-3 with Velios joining Jelavic and Anichebe in a physical forward trio but in truth we had minimal options from the bench which could give Chelsea anything new to think about. Barkley’s cameo was also an example of why Moyes has been loathe to give him more game time since his return from Sheff Wed. If we can get Gibson back and perhaps bring in Vadis Odjidja from Brugge it would probably be worth Barkley heading back to Hillsborough where he can continue to develop his game which is still a bit short for this level.
This was a game the Blues deserved more from and will rightfully feel disappointed not to have taken at least a point. In the first half in particular we dominated proceedings and overall had more shots and struck the woodwork 3 times to Chelsea’s 0. There was always the worry that the pressure play would be hard to maintain for 90 minutes given how thin our squad is and so it proved as Chelsea were more involved in the second period with Mata and Ramires key to their more enterprising work on the break. There is little to be ashamed of in losing to the expensively assembled European Champions with fine margins and bad luck to blame for this narrow loss. With Fellaini back and a run of fixtures against some decidedly gash looking sides there is plenty to be optimistic for as we head into 2013.