The honeymoon period is over and it is not entirely surprising that the end was brought about at Goodison Park of all places. A stadium where we seldom come away without knowing we have been in a real game.
Chelsea began the match well and had many big chances in the first half. As usual it was Everton’s resilience and dogged determination that were the main characteristics that earned their success. This particularly surprised me as I expected Martinez’s Everton to approach things differently. One adjustment that I did notice was the build up to the goal. Everton had a free kick from distance, all the big men got in the box and the kick taker squared it five yards to the audible groans of the home support, obviously so used to the direct Moyes approach. Ten seconds later and the ball was in the Chelsea net as Everton worked a move that left Steven Naismith with the simplest of finishes on the stroke of half time. Perhaps this evidence that the Spaniard’s philosophy will slowly but surely take hold.
I was eagerly anticipating Mourinho’s reaction after the break and the tempo was certainly increased. It was also particularly pleasing to see the domination of the possession away to a team that Martinez has set up with ball retention as the main focus. Everton began to sit deeper and look for the break as Chelsea looked increasingly toothless in the final third. We certainly had our chances though and the striker issue that many fear we have not properly addressed in August reared its ugly head. It would be harsh to aim any criticism at Eto’o this early on but he certainly did not look sharp. As for Mr Torres, well, he has not looked sharp from day one – 17 shots off target for the Blues tells its own story.
I have seen Howard Webb referee many a match over the years and he consistently lets a lot of 50/50 calls go. In my experience of watching football at this level, this approach tends to benefit the side with less technical ability attempting to gain an advantage with a physical approach. With Everton digging in I predicted at around the hour mark that Chelsea would not score in this match. This was compounded by the decision that went against Oscar, which admittedly was a difficult call, but when margins are fine the referee can make a huge difference to the eventual outcome. I lost count of the amount of times that Hazard was cynically bundled off of the ball only for the offender to receive no punishment beyond the free kick awarded.
On the whole it was a disappointing and frustrating day for Chelsea with the positives to take away few and far between. Many consider Mikel to be the Chelsea man of the match and I am inclined to agree with the general consensus, as his uncanny ability to hold the ball under pressure was once again on show. My bold prediction at half-time was that we would see a treble substitution if we did not have a goal by the hour. Whilst that did not happen, the substitution of Torres for Cole did have a touch of the Kamikaze about it and gave food for thought with regards to the formation for future kitchen sink situations.
Indications are that the title race is going to be an interesting one without a particularly outstanding candidate. There is a long way to go.