Chelsea picked up their fourth consecutive home victory this campaign with an impressive 3-1 win against Everton at Stamford Bridge yesterday. It had been nearly six years since the Blues had beaten Everton in SW6 and the relief was palpable following Ramires’s game-sealing third goal in the 61st minute. With Manchester United dropping points at Anfield earlier in the day the Blues move to within a point of the Champions, ahead of their big derby game next week against league leaders Manchester City.
Branislav Ivanovic and Jon Mikel Obi returned to the starting eleven but otherwise Andre Villas-Boas kept with the same side that had won so impressively at Bolton last time out.
A two-week break had followed that emphatic 5-1 win at the Reebok Stadium and the gap appeared to have done the Blues no favours as they started slowly against the Toffees. Bar a darting run from Ramires early on which was prematurely and perhaps illegally ended by the covering Sylvain Distin Chelsea had nothing to show for their possession in the first thirty minutes. Indeed it was Everton who created the best openings in that time. First the prolific Louis Saha, so regularly the demon of our defence, wriggled free in the box but shot straight at Cech. Then some excellent interplay involving Leon Osman, Leighton Baines and Maroune Fellaini culminated in a clever reverse pass from Baines which picked out the big-haired Belgian midfielder, but he opted not to shoot instantly and Mikel covered magnificently to clear the danger.
These scares appeared to jolt the Blues into life and after a sustained period of pressure in the Everton half they took the lead with their first attempt on target. An incisive chipped through-ball behind the Everton backline from the ever-dangerous Juan Mata picked out a surging Ashley Cole whose first-time dinked cross was equally pinpoint – Daniel Sturridge, running from deep and ahead of Baines, was the grateful recipient, heading home from barely three yards out. It had taken a goal of serious precision to open up a previously stubborn Toffees rear guard.
Knowing that games between these two clubs are often tense affairs with barely more than a goal in them Chelsea’s second on the stroke of half time put some welcome breathing space between themselves and the visitors from Liverpool. An inswinging Frank Lampard free-kick from the left touchline found the head of John Terry, and with Tim Howard having gone walkabout the England captain had the simplest of tasks, heading into an unoccupied net for his second league goal of the season.
The Toffees almost immediately halved the deficit barely thirty seconds after the interval but Osman was unfortunate to see his low shot from 20 yards hit the outside of the post. Chelsea responded well to this warning and netted a third on the hour with a flowing counter-attack. Mata picked the ball up deep inside his own half and found Didier Drogba on the halfway line. He surged forward and found Mata in the inside left channel. With two touches the Spaniard controlled the ball and squared it immaculately across the face of goal where Ramires was charging in to convert from close range.
Unfortunately for the Brazilian, who had covered the length of the pitch in a matter of seconds, he injured himself in the process of scoring and had to be replaced. Florent Malouda was the beneficiary.
With the game now sealed and Stamford Bridge in full voice enjoying a strong if unspectacular Chelsea performance (by this stage of the game three shots on target had yielded three goals) it felt hard to imagine the Blues playing their home football anywhere else. Many stickers, leaflets and banners were on display urging CPO shareholders to vote no in the forthcoming EGM.
Everton did get a goal ten minutes from time as once again Chelsea proved incapable of keeping a clean sheet. Substitutes Royston Drenthe and Apostolos Vellios combined with ease to see the latter sliding in to convert past Cech a mere eighteen seconds after he had entered the field of play. The goal proved a consolation however and it was Chelsea who might have had the game’s last word. Malouda’s cross was deftly chested down by Drogba to the lurking Lampard but his well-struck half-volley was straight into Howard’s gleeful arms.
So Chelsea had ended their barren run against the Toffees and enjoyed a third consecutive league victory in the process, a run which has included twelve goals. Villas-Boas must be enjoying the improved clinical nature of the Blues’ finishing since that particularly profligate game at Old Trafford a month ago. With a couple of tricky London derbies on the horizon the Portuguese manager will be hoping the goals keep flowing and the points keep coming.