STILL FIGHTING FOR POLE POSITION
Chelsea came away from Goodison Park with a valuable three points, enhanced by Manchester United dropping two points at Ewood Park against Blackburn. The gap at the top is down to three points, with United still to travel to Stamford Bridge.
Paulo Ferreira and Ashley Cole were recalled to the line up, whilst Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba were all missing. An unfamiliar midfield trio of John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien and Shaun Wright-Phillips lined up to face the Merseysiders, whilst Nicolas Anelka was once more the focal point in attack, flanked by Joe Cole and Salomon Kalou.
The home side started with an attacking looking lineup, with both Andrew Johnson and Yakubu selected up front. Phil Jagielka held his place in defence, despite Joseph Yobo returning, as Leighton Baines made way.
The controversially scheduled match started very slowly, Chelsea evidently trying to balance the looming Champions League match against that other team on Merseyside with the fact that they have to win every game from here on in, to stand a chance of beating United in the Premiership.
Everton had a chance from a free kick after fifteen minutes, Mikel Arteta’s absence allowing Manuel Fernandes to show his expertise from the given situation. His free kick dipped and bounced awkwardly in front of Čech, who did well to keep his composure and palm the ball around the post.
Ricardo Carvalho was booked for a foul on Lescott, the only blemish on what was a fantastic night for the Portuguese defender, whilst Michael Essien exhibiting great technique to slide and dispossess Johnson as he bore down on goal.
On 34 minutes, Shaun Wright-Phillips was played in by Kalou, but Everton defender Jagielka made a crucial intervention to prevent the Chelsea winger-cum-midfielder from shooting. Six minutes later though, Chelsea took the lead, Wright-Phillips again involved. He collected Essien’s pass on the edge of the box and looked to play the ball back to the onrushing midfielder. The return pass took a huge deflection of the unfortunate Jagielka and fell invitingly for Essien, who calmly dinked the ball over Tim Howard, to notch his second goal in four days.
Two minutes later, John Obi Mikel came close to his first ever Premiership goal, as his 30 yard effort was tipped over by a watchful Howard, Chelsea taking a 1-0 lead into the break.
The second half was pedestrian at best, boring at worst, as Chelsea held their lead in the face of a very weak Everton challenge.
Paulo Ferreira, back in the side, was booked for dissent, before David Moyes decided to withdraw Johnson and Pienaar and replace them with Thomas Gravesen and Victor Anichebe.
On 67 minutes, Manuel Fernandes had another chance from a set piece, as John Terry gave away a free kick on the edge of the area. This one was much closer to scoring than the effort previous, as it bent just wide of the far post, with Čech nowhere.
Essien shot wide after good work by Wright-Phillips, before the under-fire Avram Grant replaced Joe Cole with Florent Malouda and, three minutes later, Shaun Wright-Phillips with Claude Makelélé.
The last ten minutes were devoid of chances for either side, as Andriy Shevchenko remained, once more, an unused sub. It was Chelsea’s 20th match in a row without defeat against Everton, but now, our attention turns to the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Anfield, kicking off on Tuesday evening.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Hibbert, Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott; Pienaar (Anichebe 61), Carsley, Fernandes, Neville (c); Johnson (Gravesen 61), Yakubu.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Čech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Wright-Phillips (Makelélé 80), Mikel, Essien; J Cole (Malouda 71), Anelka, Kalou.
Referee Martin Atkinson