Chelsea continue their quest for domestic success with a nervy win over Everton in which they fail to keep a clean sheet and end the match with eleven men. Salomon Kalou scored in the first half through some dreadful goalkeeping, whilst Louis Saha pulled one back minutes before the end of the 90. That meant extra time was to be played, and with four minutes of extra-time to go, Daniel Sturridge pounced on another goalkeeping mistake to send Chelsea into the quarter-finals.
With AVB wanting to use this competition as a chance to inject some youth, Bertrand, Romeu, McEachran and Lukaku all started. With senior players rested in Cech, Terry, Lampard and Torres, it was up to the youth – and other fringe players like Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda – to take Chelsea on.
The match started slowly, Lukaku having a shot for Chelsea whilst at the other end, Ross Turnbull had to be alert to keep out a Louis Saha effort.
The big chance came for Chelsea though. McEachran surged down the left hand side, and when he cut into the box and was sliced down by Heitinga, Lee Mason said penalty. Nicolas Anelka stepped up and missed the target completely, though replays suggest he may have been put off by some laser being shone on the ball as he went to kick it.
Lukaku continued to impress with some surging runs, whilst on-loan winger Drenthe nearly set up Russian Bilyaletinov to score.
But on the 36th minute, Chelsea drew first blood. With Chelsea patiently passing and probing, Kalou found some space after collecting the ball from Ryan Bertrand. Kalou, in hope more than anything, lifted the ball into the box. It was so bad, that the fact it turned into a goal is quite remarkable. The chip found no-one at all and Kalou was most likely caught in two minds as to whether it was a cross or shot. With it being a comfortable height for Jan Mucha, he jumped to gather it, only for him to lose concentration, it to slip out of his hands and gift Chelsea the lead.
The second half began is uninspiring fashion, just like the first. McEachran, sitting deep in the team, was involved in many moves and linked up well with his team-mates. Penalty miss man Anelka then had another golden opportunity. Clear on the right-wing, he dallied far too long and shot tamely at Mucha. Had this been the Anelka of old, he would have scored. Lukaku showed his frustration at his greedy team-mate, having been unmarked in the box.
The next twist was to come in this soap opera. David Luiz, so promising yet so frustrating, could not control a cross, which landed perfectly in Saha;’a path. Ross Turnbull, helplessly caught, could only haul down the Frenchman with his legs – penalty and red card.
Petr Cech came on in place of the sacrificed Romelu Lukaku, and his first touch was an instinctive penalty save from Leighton Baines, who thumped it powerfully but too centrally. His second touch was even better. Baines was taken aback from Cech’s fierce punch-save (largely due to the momentum of his own shot), and took a moment or two to get ready for the rebound. Cech was fired up, and smothered at Baines’ feet to keep this match at 1-0.
The promising England star Josh McEachran was then taken off, for some sturdier play in John Obi Mikel. But it was still the substitute keeper performing the sturdiest. Hibbert found Bilyaletinov who tried to chip it back across goal. Cech was on hand to save it. Daniel Sturridge then came on for goal-scorer Kalou on 85. Everton had many more chances to win it, but none were taken, and so the match rolled into extra-time.
Chelsea’s intention in the first half of extra time were clear: be patient and pass carefully. Keeping the possession, they frustrated Everton and slowly gained momentum in the match. This momentum was near capitalised near the end of the first half, Luiz firing a free-kick just wide.
Then in the beginning of the second half of extra time, Drenthe got his marching orders. Already on a yellow card, he collided into Bertrand needlessly, and for the remaining moments, it was ten versus ten. Chelsea changed tactics. Now not at a relative numerical disadvantage, they played more fluidly, and this was converted into the winning goal. Malouda, captain for the night with senior players rested, found room and hit a fierce shot at Mucha. The keeper could only parry straight down, into the path of the grateful Daniel Sturridge, who continued to increase his goal tally with a cool, calm, composed stroke home.
In the analysis part my match report over the weekend, I said AVB had to be careful not to lose this match. Thankfully, he did not. But it was a case of what could have been for Everton.
AVB must be worried by the continuing threat of self-destruction by his team. Comfortable at the week-end, two needless red cards, one penalty and match lost. Winning here, needless penalty and red card. Match, thankfully, won.
AVB has always said this would be a chance to blood the young. He kept to his word, with Bertrand proving he is a good player, but with Ashley Cole one of the best left-backs in the world, it is hard to see him progressing here at Chelsea in the short term, ie he needs to go out on loan. McEachran, who has not been getting as many games as he would have hoped, was anchoring the midfield, and he did well too. But he did not get a full match, with AVB wanting to shore things up after the red card. Up front, Romelu “The New Drogba” Lukaku got a game. He proved to be a handful on a few attacks, outmuscling the defence, but again, his evening was cut short due to the red card.
All in all, positives to take from the negative of needless challenges. The character and desire Chelsea have shown in the last two games where they’ve been a man (or two) down has been exceptional. As a group, they have worked hard to grind out a result. But it is not about grinding out a result. Roman Abramovich wants attacking football. The only way to do that is by having a full set of players. If AVB wants to stay in this job for 15 years as Bruce Buck hints at, he must be the one to calm his players.
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