It took a late goal to maintain Chelsea’s seven point lead at the top of the Premier League in a dramatic night at Stamford Bridge. Despite dominating most of the possession, Jose Mourinho’s side couldn’t force a way through against a struggling Everton side. In the closing minutes Gareth Barry was sent off, and then the Pensioners grabbed a winner in the 89th minute.
The Blues started with new man Juan Cuadrado for the first time, as he replaced the unavailable Oscar. That move saw Willian take up the number 10 role, which seems to be his favoured position. Petr Cech also came in for Thibaut Courtois, while Kurt Zouma replaced Gary Cahill at the back. Romelu Lukaku started for the away side, as he made his first return to Stamford Bridge since his £28million move to Merseyside in the summer.
Cuadrado made an excellent impact early in to his first start, showing his pace down the right hand side. Chelsea had a scary amount of pace going forward, with Willian, Eden Hazard, Ramires and Loic Remy alongside the Colombian. That kind of speed and power started to tell for the hosts as they made several promising breakaways, but they couldn’t capitalise on that in the opening half.
The two sides went in level at the break, after the home side dominated the first half. Everton had a few chances of their own on the break, but the they couldn’t find a way past the Blues’ back four, with Kurt Zouma in particular putting in an impressive display. The one time they did break free Cech produced a fine stop with his feet from Lukaku.
Lukaku again came close to breaking the deadlock against his former club, as he shot from point blank range after Bryan Oviedo’s cross. It looked like a certain goal for the Belgian with no one marking him, but Cech pulled off another fantastic save with his left foot to deny him. Lukaku couldn’t have done much more, but the Czech keeper was at his best to hold on to his clean sheet.
With Oscar out and Cesc Fabregas only on the bench, Chelsea were without their two biggest creators of goals so far this season. That was evident as the Blues struggled to create chances against a dogged Everton side. Mourinho decided to bring Fabregas off the bench with 20 minutes to go, his first appearance since getting injured in the League Cup semi final second leg against Liverpool. He replaced Cuadrado, and moved in to the advanced midfield role.
Chelsea thought they took the lead with minutes to go through a deflected effort from Nemanja Matic. The smallest of touches off Branislav Ivanovic took it in, but sadly the Serbian was standing in an offside position, so the goal was disallowed. The game sprung to live from there, and when Willian was fouled near the halfway line, a full on melee took place. Gareth Barry received a second yellow in the middle of it, although Ivanovic, who may yet be subject to disciplinary action, may have been fortunate not to also see red after grabbing James McCarthy and then leaning his head in towards the Everton man.
From the resulting free kick the ball was pumped in the box, and Tim Howard’s punch out fell straight to Willian who was stood just outside the box. His effort flew through a crowd of bodies, and beat Howard in the Everton goal. That was enough to secure the win for Chelsea, a second late show against Everton here in a row.
LCN Man of the Match: Willian