After going out of the champions league midweek, our season effectively came down to this match, our only chance of winning a trophy this season.
Hazard didn’t travel as he was supposedly struggling with a strained tendon. The backline remained the same as for the PSG match, and good news came in the form of John Terry being fit enough to return to the bench. Pedro and Willian flanked Fabregas who was pushed further forward in midfield, with Mikel joined by Matic in the deeper roles. Costa was passed fit and started up top.
It was a high tempo start to the match from both sides, and tackles were flying in as well. The fast pace and pressure applied by both teams lasted the whole half, but was punctuated rather to frequently by stoppages for free kicks. Costa was fouled early on by Barry, and shortly afterwards was judged by referee Michael Oliver to have caught him with an arm as both players collided with one another, and Costa was booked. Kenedy also saw yellow in the first half for a challenge on Coleman. It was Kenedy who had our first chance. He broke down the left and gestured for support in the middle, he was forced to cut in as none was forthcoming, and he fired over the top on his un-favoured right foot.
Chelsea took control of possession as the half went on, but for the first twenty minutes were very deep in midfield. Fabregas often dropping back close to Matic and Mikel to get on the ball. Costa was also dropping off and this left us with no one in Everton’s final third on to many occasions.
It was a half where both defences were on top. Cahill and Ivanovic were marshalling Lukaku well, and winning the ball of him most times it was played into the Everton front man. Likewise with Jagielka against Costa at the other end. Possession was surrendered in midfield by both sides as well, although Everton were guilty of more careless passes than Chelsea. Intercepting these looked like being a good chance to score for us, as we managed to play higher up the pitch as the half wore on. Chances at both ends were scarce however. Fabregas was our best bet of creating something. He intercepted a Barkley pass and weighted a beautiful pass in behind for Pedro, but he didn’t have enough room to get to his touch passed the sliding Robles.
Some nice build up eight minutes before half time resulted in Fabregas being brought down outside the box. Willian curled a dipping effort in from the resulting free kick, but Robles turned it over the top. That was it for the half. Pretty even, but with Chelsea growing into the match and looking slightly more likely, although at this stage money would have been on a replay.
The second half started with less blood and thunder, but in a similar vein in terms of pattern of play. Again Chelsea struggled with the final ball, either giving it away, players being dispossessed, or Costa simply being crowded out with lack of support.
He did have one good chance as we broke away with Pedro who slipped Costa in down the left side of the box. Robles came out and Costa managed to round him, by now right on the goal line, his effort ran right across the goal line and out the other side. At the other end Funes-Mori headed just over after climbing above Ivanovic from a corner.
This time as the half wore on it was Everton who were coming into the match more. They were showing fight and passion that we were unable to match. In the first half we just about had the upper hand in the midfield, but the balanced had shifted now.
With fifteen minutes left we were coasting, and in all honesty, a lot of our players looked to be settling for the replay. We were a long way from getting that though. Lennon was lively down the right, and Barry and McCarthy were winning more tackles in the middle.
In the 78th minute, their desire to win the match paid off. Lukaku received the ball on the left of the box, he easily cut between Azpilicueta and Ivanovic, Mikel had come over to cover, but offered no challenge, Cahill inexplicably turned his back on Lukaku as he changed direction in the box, and he fired into the far corner. It was shocking defending from every player concerned.
If Chelsea didn’t muster some passion and fight now, it was game over, season over.
All that happened was the team that wanted it more got what they deserved, a second and decisive goal, Remy, now on for Matic, ducked out of a throw, the ball was played between both centre backs with ease, to Lukaku, played on by Kenedy who hadn’t kept the line, and he despatched through the legs of Courtois. More awful defending.
That was that. Everton were through to the semi finals. Chelsea were out, and quite frankly, got what was deserved from the match, and indeed the season. Absolutely nothing. Costa went on to get sent off for a second yellow after fronting up to Barry, he may or may not have done more. I won’t elaborate, as no doubt it will be on every sports bulletin until the end of the season. Barry also saw red late on for a second yellow, but the game was dead and buried after Lukaku netted the second.
There has not been an improvement under Hiddink, who didn’t cover himself in glory with this match either, a rudderless ship left to drift onto the rocks. Finishing the match with two centre backs upfront and Traore still on the bench was quite frankly embarrassing. He has provided a sticking plaster on a gaping wound, but the same issues remain. The board should by now realise they have made a big mistake. Mourinho would have cleared the decks at the end of this season and rebuilt, he would not have stood for the frankly disgraceful attitude and performance of some players, he knew who they were, we can make our own assumptions based on what we see on the pitch. Wholesale change is needed, but is unlikely to come as where it is needed most is at board level, where a long hard look at how this club operates is required, there cannot continue to be a narrow minded short term approach to every decision. Roman needs to consider who he is taking advice from, and trusting important positions at the club too, and indeed whether some of those positions are even required, because he and the supporters are being badly let down.
Contribution from Michael Martin