The Observer, Paul Wilson: “Chelsea may be hoping to sharpen their front line with Fernando Torres but they have Petr Cech to thank for keeping them in the FA Cup. The goalkeeper produced a save from Seamus Coleman to prevent Everton going two in front that proved a turning point when Chelsea mounted a swift counterattack to equalise, then denied Jermaine Beckford with a fingertip save in the final minutes to earn a replay. A draw was a fair result in a game that only got going at half -time, yet Everton did enough to win and could reasonably claim that only Cech prevented them inflicting the first Cup defeat on Chelsea since March 2008.”
Sunday Telegraph, Rory Smith: “Chelsea returned to London from their first visit to Merseyside this weekend mired in stalemate, aware that they will be given a second chance at success early next month. Roman Abramovich will be aware that his second, rather more expensive, foray north-west in the next 48 hours will not come with a do-over.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea had to come from a goal down to earn an FA Cup replay at Everton on Saturday afternoon. Substitute Salomon Kalou did the trick 16 minutes from time when he slotted home into the bottom corner at a time when it looked for all the world like the holders would be heading out at the fourth round stage.”
So, Fernando Torres. Wouldn’t be a bad buy, would it? If it was up to me, I’d try to go for someone younger and less injury-prone, but that’s a bit like saying I’d prefer Jessica Alba to Cheryl Cole. I wouldn’t exactly be disappointed if we did sign him, put it that way. Initially I assumed it was just talk to shift a few papers but rumours of deal involving cash plus Sturridge was given a bit more credibility today as Danny wasn’t even on the bench. Signing Torres would give us another option tactically, a chance to move away from the Mourinho-esque 4-3-3. Just imagine, Drog and Nando up front… it could be beautiful.
Whilst on the subject of transfers I think letting Kakuta go on loan to Fulham is a smart move. I also think we could have let McEachren get a few games somewhere else too. I’d prefer him to be in the team but what with Ancelotti’s inability to pick anyone but the senior players I think if Josh went and impressed somewhere else then Carlo might grow a pair and start picking him next season.
Anyway, enough rambling, and to the small matter of an FA Cup fourth round tie away at Everton. Tradition dictates I should have written my prediction bit before the game, but I only received the call (i.e. checked my emails) from Our Dear Leader yesterday evening whilst at a cider festival, and I was in no state to write anything coherent before kick-off today. But based on signs of our recent improvement I was hoping for a closely fought two-nil victory.
Team selection has got a tad predictable under Carlo. No youngsters, no Kalou and the usual suspects in the usual 4-3-3. The good news is Lampard is back.
Cech, Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, Bosingwa, Lamps, Essien, Ramires, Malouda, Drogba, Anelka.
The first half
The first twenty minutes saw rather average football from both sides. If Chelsea were top of the league and regularly scoring four or more goals you’d say we were looking solid defensively and just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the counter attack. As we are gingerly coming out of the worst spell of results for ten years I’d say we looked complacent, a bit lazy and like none of the players wanted to take responsibility and make something happen. The first bright bit of play did come on the counter, Drogba driving forward with the ball before Malouda and Anelka played a beautiful one-two just inside the Everton box. Flo tried to square the ball back to Drogba who had continued his run, but Everton’s defence managed to block off the Drog and clear the ball.
The game gradually started warming up after that. Fellaini harassed Essien back towards his own goal and when Terry stepped up to stop Fellaini nicking the ball it broke to Saha. A first time ball put in Rodwell whose shot from 20 yards was saved by Cech with his legs. Half an hour in Chelsea started to look like the better team, with Ramires probably shining the most in a midfield packed with three players from each side. He is everywhere, winning tackles, moving the ball well and playing with a hint of Essien at his best. Two minutes after Anelka looks to be through on goal, only to be ruled offside, a smart Ramires one-two with Drogba around the centre spot gives him space to pick a pass to again release Anelka, who shoots straight at Tim Howard.
For the rest of the half a few of our big name players start looking more interested. Drogba is keen to get on the ball, dropping back into midfield occasionally and spraying passes about, Anelka is constantly on the shoulder of the last defender and Lampard tries to play a few probing passes. Nothing quite comes off though and possibly the closest we come to scoring is a 30 yard thunderbolt from Malouda which Howard tips round the post.
The second half
Chelsea start the second half slowly; a sloppy bit of play from JT five minutes in lets Everton cross the ball deep to the far post where Ramires manages to make a very good block to stop a goal bound volley from Saha. Instead of that chance waking us up we keep misplacing passes, and I got a bit more worried when the ref gives a ridiculously soft free kick to Everton which ends in Cech making a smart save from Fellaini’s header. Everton look to capitalise on the afro-haired giant’s aerial prowess whenever they can, and a couple of minutes later he nods down a long free kick to Arteta who thankfully volleys well wide.
We still haven’t kicked into life 15 minutes into the half. Everton win another corner and Saha scores from the edge of the six yard box after a little dart towards the front post sent JT out of position. Terry is definitely not having his best game and it’s a fairly easy header for Saha who seems to have a knack of scoring against us. It’s a completely deserved lead for Everton based on our performance this half. After the goal the players start trying a bit harder but still every time we win the ball after about five or six passes we just give it straight back.
Seventy minutes in Malouda is taken off for Kalou. We continue to play as if we’re hapless novices, perhaps with the exception of Ramires. After letting Everton piss around on the edge of our area for a while Baines gets a cross in to the far post and Coleman barges past Bosingwa to force a save from Cech. The ball spills back to Coleman again, but this time Terry and Essien dive in to deflect his shot wide.
After again inviting pressure from Everton we manage to get a completely undeserved equaliser. On the counter attack Anelka runs out on the left and switches the play across the pitch. Ramires lets the ball run past him to Kalou, who takes a couple of touches before shooting through Distin’s legs and into the far corner of the goal from the edge of the area. I think it’s probably his first touches of the game.
Ten minutes later we see the other side of Kalou. Cech hoofs a long ball up which he controls straight away, holding onto the ball well up the pitch while waiting for support. After a couple of players join the attack Kalou then inexplicably starts dribbling the wrong way before giving the ball back to Everton. At least we are looking slightly better at this point. Anelka had a shot saved by Howard a couple of minutes earlier and soon after Kalou’s mistake Ramires lets fly with a rocket from 25 yards which hits the outside of the post.
Everton’s last chance of the game comes from a long ball down the pitch which Ivanovic should deal with easily but unfortunately he slices his clearance and it drops behind him to Beckford, who smashes a half volley from a tight angle which Cech turns behind. Two minutes later Essien almost grabs a last gasp winner when he wins a header at the front post from Drogba’s corner but he only manages to glance it across goal.
- Defence – They played well considering how, for large passages of play, we invited Everton pressure. Terry didn’t have his best game though.
- Ramires – It’s hard to evaluate someone after half a season but there are glimpses that he may be a future star for us. Still not convinced he is world class but at least I’m convinced he might be.
- Everton’s pressure – In the first 15 minutes Phil Neville alone must have fouled half our team but they deserve some credit for making it difficult for us.
- Malouda – I had to pick someone and I’ll choose him as a scapegoat. He wasn’t awful but for a player who has been here 3½ years only giving us 18 months of good football isn’t enough.
- Phil Neville.
It’s a tough one. I’m not sure if the moaning nature of my report is down to my hangover, Chelsea’s poor play, or my inherent bi-polarity. Based on the second half of the first half I’d give everyone a seven apart from Ramires, who gets an eight. Lampard, Essien and Bosingwa all looked like they were getting back to their best after their recent absences, and at one point in the game I felt it was only a matter of time before Anelka scored. But after an abject second half I’ve got to re-evaluate and everyone apart from Cech and Ramires gets a six. Ramires is Man of the Match.
We played badly and didn’t lose. This competition is probably our best hope of silverware this season, but I can’t really get excited unless we start to look like the old Chelsea again. I’d rather win nothing this season and look like we can fight for everything in the next campaign rather than just stay still as a team. Even so I’ve got that sliver of hope that we can still catch United or put together a run in Europe. United have to play Arsenal, Liverpool, City and of course us (twice) before the end of the season. And Fernando Torres isn’t cup tied for the Champions League…