HONOURS EVEN FOR BATTLE OF BLUES
On a day that is poignant for many a reason unrelated to football, Stamford Bridge was a sight to behold as over 40,000 people stood in silence to remember all those men and women who were killed during the two World Wars and other conflicts.
Both Chelsea and Everton had returned from German lands after battles of their own in Gelsenkirchen and Nuremburg respectively. Everton returned victorious, whereas Chelsea were happy to escape back to England with minimal casualties, and what could turn out to be an important point in the bag in the battle for the Champions League.
The game kicked off with attacking intent shown by the home side, and as early as the second minute Shaun Wright-Phillips, starting in a front three with Joe Cole and Didier Drogba, managed to get a ball crossed into Drogba, who sadly couldn’t find the target.
Chelsea continued with the early pressure, with Cole, Lampard, Essien and Mikel looking good in and around the midfield area, all looking to play the ball into an area in which Drogba could do some damage, sadly, as became the case for a lot of the match, the final ball was lacking.
It was at the other end where Chelsea’s makeshift defensive line up soon suffered another casualty. Ricardo Carvalho, arguably the only first choice in a back five of Carlo, Bridge, Alex, Belletti and himself, fell awkwardly and had to be substituted for Tal Ben Haim, meaning we had an entirely second string defence on the pitch.
By the half-hour mark, Chelsea were on the front foot and Howard was tested by Cole and Drogba whilst Cudicini remained a spectator at the other end. Didier won a free-kick from 20 yards out after Neville brought him, however the resulting kick from the Ivorian went high and wide.
Bridge, who was seeing a lot of the ball down the left flank, broke forward as the fourth official indicated added time, and played a lovely through ball which ran into the path of Wright-Phillips. The winger was unable to take a shot from inside the box and instead played the ball across the face of goal, which flew just inches out of the reach of Drogba, for the best chance and worse miss of the half.
The second half started slowly, with Everton looking to contain Chelsea, who continued to show their superiority over Everton. Cole ran onto a through ball from Wright-Phillips then played out a smart one-two with Essien before hitting a shot from the edge of the box that Howard saved comfortably.
Salomon Kalou came on to replace Wright-Phillips, who’d had a disappointing game by recent standards, Joe Cole then moved to the right flank whilst Kalou took up the role on the left. The effect was almost immediate as Kalou made a run into the box from his first touch of the game, forcing a corner which eventually came to nothing.
It wasn’t until the 71st minute that Chelsea made their possession count, when Drogba rose to a corner kick from Kalou and smashed the ball into the back of the net with his head at the near post to make it 1-0, and a goal from a corner for the first time in a while.
Everton responded well to the goal and started to play with more attacking intent, however despite more possession and sending more men forward, they were unable to make it count, Chelsea were increasingly reduced to making counter attacks and although going close via Lampard, never really looked like scoring.
The game began to slow as the final minutes played out and some of the players seemed to relax. It wasn’t long before we were forced to pay for any complacency and for not putting the game beyond doubt as McFadden found himself with space on the left and cut inside to lay a pass to Cahill. The ball bounced up and as Belletti looked to attack it, Cahill hit a perfectly executed scissor kick to level the score with minimal time left on the clock.
It was a classic stealth attack and one that took Chelsea by surprise, with a definite two points dropped in the all important race for the title. Although there was no clear winner in this battle, the war for honours continues, and you can be sure Chelsea will soldier on until the very end.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Cudicini: Belletti, Alex, Carvalho, Bridge: Essien, Mikel, Lampard (c): Wright-Phillips (Kalou 63), Drogba, J Cole.
Scorer: Drogba 70.
Everton (4-2-3-1) Howard: Hibbert, Yobo, Lescott, Valente; Carsley (Gravesen 76), Neville (c) (McFadden h-t); Cahill Osman, Pienaar; Yakubu (Anichebe h-t).
Scorer: Cahill 88
Referee Alan Wiley.