The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: "Chelsea’s title challenge may just have run aground at last. Talk of securing an unlikely treble, aired briefly and rather reluctantly by Guus Hiddink in the build-up to this occasion, was choked last night by a wonderfully rugged and committed Everton team to leave the hosts frustrated and forlorn. Manchester United perch six points clear of the Londoners this morning with a game still in hand. Even Hiddink’s ability to eke the best from this squad may struggle to bridge that chasm."
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: "As a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup Final, it was Chelsea who forgot their glad rags. And their lines. A draw against Everton, the other victorious team in last weekend’s semi-finals, Wednesday night pretty much ended any pretensions, however faint, that they could win the Premier League title leaving them surely too far adrift of Manchester United.One trophy gone but still two to play for. However this was probably the worst performance they have delivered since Guus Hiddink’s arrival in February with the interim manager failing with that fabled golden touch even if Didier Drogba struck the bar with a powerful shot on the turn in injury-time."
The Times, Matt Hughes: "Guus Hiddink may be the ultimate managerial mercenary, but the well-travelled Dutchman is no miracle-worker. Chelsea’s interim manager has conjured a magic act of sorts in transforming a demoralised squad and keeping them fighting on three fronts, but even he conceded last night that the biggest domestic prize is now beyond them. At this stage of the season, Manchester United’s lead of six points over them — with a game in hand on both their main rivals — is less of a gap, more a yawning chasm."
The Independent, Mark Fleming: "The Chelsea juggernaut hit the Everton brick wall with a thud. David Moyes’ team were probably the last side Chelsea wanted to meet after their epic endeavours of recent weeks. Few outfits work as hard for their points as Everton which was not good news for Treble-chasing Chelsea, contesting their sixth game in 18 days."
Official Chelsea FC Website: "A total of 180 league minutes between these two teams failed to produce a goal this season."
A very brief report tonight as it’s quite late and I’ve just got in the door after someone decided to turn the A3 into a computer game whereby the skill lies in negotiating lane closure and traffic filtering without losing your temper. Thank God I’ve got Planet Rock in the car to keep me somewhere near sane.
An average game which hopefully isn’t a portent for the FA Cup final. There were several valiant attempts to get the atmosphere stoked up to last Tuesday’s levels but to be honest that was never going to happen and as the first half finished the whole game had taken on a distinctly ‘end of season’ feel.
That said we could and should be doing better than this at home and any new manager will have to try and get to the bottom of a pretty wretched home record littered with defeats (well two anyway) and draws against teams we should be beating on our own patch.
- Alex. Magnificent tonight and did well against fellow Brazilian Jo, who missed a sitter on a rare breakthrough but was still a handful. Plenty of Brazilian on Brazilian action ensured some very close shaves. Groan.
- Florent Malouda. Wow. What a turn around. Superb ball control skills, cheeky passes, great crosses, wondrous little passes to feet, hard working and generally a big threat. What can I say? Maybe I’ll have to admit to being wrong… is that gulping noise the sound of pride being swallowed… we’ll see folks, we’ll see.
- Ashley Cole. The hardest working player this season. Never stops running and chasing and tackling and is in with a good shout for my Player of the Year vote.
- We didn’t lose. Which is small comfort I suppose for what I’d hoped would be a chance to close the gap not just on Manchester United, but also Liverpool after their slip last night. Still, although we gained no ground on them we never let Arsenal gain any on us.
- Tim Howard. Showed Cech how to command his box, pulled a wonder save from Kalou and showed just why Moyes has put so much faith in him.
- Everton. Moyes is a shrewd bastard and had a game plan that his team stuck to rigidly. They were all Makeleles at times, breaking down moves and being ugly, whilst relying on the break for chances. They could and should have scored on two or three occasions tonight. They also showed fantastic unity and spirit so soon after a strength sapping FA Cup semi-final. Pretty they ain’t. Effective… they most certainly are.
The not quite so good
- Michael Essien. Took two early knocks and never got into the game. His worst performance since his return and hopefully just a blip.
- Frank Lampard. Shooting boots left behind at Wembley methinks, despite one of the dullest ever ads shown at half time for his ‘hand crafted’ Adipure magic boots. An advert, it has to be said, that was so bad I was almost looking for a noose. By his standards a poor performance.
- The tactics. The last half an hour we were reduced to a hybrid of Wimbledon and Allardyce’s early Bolton. Long ball after long ball hoofed up to the Everton area for Lescott et al to pick off with childish ease at times. Even when the second ball came off we were guilty of overpassing fancy dan intricacy the likes of which failed so dismally under Scolari. In essence we played into Everton’s hands.
- The officials. All three went from a common sense ‘let the game flow’ ethos into the three most pedantic flag waving and whistle blowing jobsworths seen for… ooooohhhhh… two or three games at least. Halsey himself must have been guilty of adding three minutes on through sheer fussiness. An Everton player took a few minutes to come off the pitch after pulling up and the second half was littered with stoppages. Time added on? Four minutes… four pathetic minutes. Not that we’d have done much with them anyway, but the principle still stands and the change in attitude and ethos was mystifying.
- Phil Neville. Just marginally better looking than his brother Gary.
- Petr Cech – 7/10 – looked better tonight but still flappy on punches.
- Branislav Ivanovic – 7/10 – simple farm boy look belies steely resolve.
- John Terry – 7.5/10 – commanding and was unlucky not to score from a rare 30 yard thunderbolt he might consider showing us again.
- Ashley Cole – 8/5/10 – Busy busy bee. A job in the hive beckons upon reincarnation.
- Alex – 8.5/10 – simply marvellous and fully deserving of his place. Deserves to keep Carvalho at bay for now.
- Frank Lampard – 6/10 – not at the races. Not even at the starting tape.
- Michael Essien – 5/10 – the early knocks seemed to affect him. Bisonless.
- Michael Ballack – 7.5/10 – great for 75 minutes then conked out. Trabant-like.
- Florent Malouda – 9/10 – yep that’s a 9. Flowing, fluent, fiery, feisty and French.
- Nicolas Anelka – 7/10 – battled on the wing, but a winger he ain’t.
- Didier Drogba – 7/10 – suffered from piss-poor service. Unlucky not to score at the death.
- Di Santo (sub) – 6/10 – this is the future? Needs to start showing it then.
- Salomon Kalou (sub) – 7/10 – nearly scored but alas made a few poor decisions. Quelle surprise.
- John Mikel Obi (sub) – 7/10 – looked calm and slick. Guilty of the long ball but it was probably team orders.
- Overall team performance – 6/10 – Mediocre. Average. Dull. Vanilla. Beige. Yawn. Drab. Meh. Sans Epices.
Man of the Match
Could have been Ashley Cole. But for me, it was Malouda who was one of the few to light the place up tonight. I’m also desperate to show that any player can be redeemed in my eyes. Florent, my boy… take a bow.
The story of this season and last season was really encapsulated in tonight’s game. The door is once again opened and we fail to walk through it. We gained nothing and lost nothing tonight unless anyone really expected we could overhaul Manchester United. I think we can now really say it’s over and play for second place or to consolidate third place. And that may not be a bad thing if we can get the FA Cup or the Champions league. Whatever anyone thinks we’re mightily better off than we’d have been had Scolari stayed. Most of us would have been happy four months ago to even entertain being so close to three trophies.
Tonight was possibly more typical of us this year than any other recent game. On our day we can look invincible, but we have too many of these ‘nearly’ days and they mostly seem to occur at home and this needs fixing next season. We must get the home belief and confidence back because it has cost us this year. A win here tonight, against Hull and Newcastle and the league would be looking a lot tighter.
A note on Everton here as well. They deserve the plaudits because they play to their strengths and seem to know their limitations. On another night with better finishing they could have scored three, maybe four and perhaps if they had got one we’d have reacted as we have done recently. We shouldn’t need to react though. Fair play to Moyes and his physical and dogged game ethos, which for me shows why he’s so inspirational to Everton and why other teams may be casting an envious eye in his direction should they suddenly find themselves managerless. I for one would be happy to give the man a chance to show what he could do with a truly decent squad and a decent budget.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!