Everton travelled south on Saturday to face reigning champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The Toffees have struggled this season, only two spots out of the relegation zone. Chelsea has been on a poor run of their own, ceding the lead of the Premier League to Manchester United in the process. On this cold London day, Everton caught a late goal to draw the Blues and prolong the questions surrounding Chelsea’s clubhouse.
Carlo Ancelotti fielded a favored 4-3-3 formation for the Blues. Didier Drogba played center forward, with Nicolas Anelka and Solomon Kalou on the left and right wings, respectively. Anelka and Kalou swapped positions quite often throughout the first half. Michael Essien withdrew into a narrow right midfield position, which allowed them to cope with Everton’s central midfield.
Toffees manager David Moyes started with a 4-4-1-1 formation. Louis Saha got the start at striker, in lieu of Yakuba. Tim Cahill played behind Saha. With Mikel Arteta receiving a three match ban, youngster Jack Rodwell got the start alongside Marouane Fellaini, another surprise start in place of Johnny Heitinga.
The first half saw Chelsea exploit the left side of the Everton defense. Michael Essien and Jose Bosingwa were methodical in pressuring Stephen Pienaar and Leighton Baines. The Blues rode most of the momentum throughout the first half. Everton’s offensive strategy centered around getting long balls into the vicinity of Saha, especially from Baines. Saha was unable to run onto most of these, as Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry matched up well. Defensively Everton took the strategy of closing quickly on Essien and Florent Malouda. Rodwell, right midfielder Seamus Coleman, and right back Phil Neville were very efficient at breaking Malouda down, leaving him ineffective for most of the game.
The first half went Chelsea’s way on the scoreboard, but a Neville gaffe proved costly. Neville passed the ball back to goalkeeper Tim Howard, but misjudged the weight of the pass. Anelka was able to corral the ball. As he tried to evade Howard’s challenge, the goalkeeper took him down, and drew the penalty. Howard only received a caution for this foul, which may have been lenient. Drogba’s conversion gave Chelsea the lead at 1-0.
Entering the second half, neither team made formational changes. The half began with Chelsea continuing to control. At the 50th minute though, one could see Everton gain momentum. The Blues were also giving room to Baines down the left. Baines had been active all game, but he took control of the left side (and perhaps the game) as the half progressed. Fellaini and Rodwell were also more active in pushing up to help out the offense, as Saha proved ineffective against Ivanovic and Terry. In the 61st minute, Rodwell nearly tied the game off a Barnes cross. His header from 8 yards caught the right post.
Everton subbed out Saha for Jermaine Beckford in the 57th minute. As a player who had fallen out of favor with Moyes early in the season, his form was much more convincing of late.
As Everton’s escalated the pressure, Ancelotti made a defensive formation change, pulling Anelka for midfielder Ramires. Malouda moved to Anelka’s position, and Ramires took a more defensive tack to the vacated midfield role. In addition, the midfield itself dropped further into a protective 4-3-3 mode.
In the 86th minute, Ancelotti’s defensive shift wasn’t enough to hold the lead. Baines recovered a lost challenge at midfield. He made a deft run through the Chelsea’s right side of Kalou, Essien, and Ferreira. He sent the perfect cross to Cahill. Cahill headed the ball back across the goal face onto Beckford’s head, and he put it past Petr Cech and squared the score.
Ancelotti tried to regain the momentum by bringing on forward Daniel Sturridge for Mikel to pair with Drogba. In what resembled more of a 4-2-4 to end the game, Chelsea gambled to gain victory. They were unable to strike back, and were fortunate to not concede. Everton continued to have opportunities, but as has often been the case with them, they lack the finishing touch to put themselves ahead. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with the Toffees clearly the sharper team.
Everton’s central defense was excellent. They limited Drogba’s opportunities to create. Sylvain Distin was primarily responsible for covering Drogba, and as is shown in this chalkboard both he and Phil Jagielka did an outstanding job thwarting Chelsea’s front line in dangerous areas.
On the other hand, Everton can thank Leighton Baines for this draw. Throughout the game, his runs from left wingback were the source of their best chances, mostly in the second half. Fellaini’s involvement in the offense forced Essien to help Mikel in the center pitch. This gave Baines more room to operate on the wing.
Chelsea continues to appear uncomfortable in matches they should control, and the questions surrounding the job of Carlo Ancelotti continue to mount. This draw would have been more of a moral victory for Everton when Chelsea fired on all cylinders. With the Blues’ scuffling, Everton could have easily eked out a victory. They continue to be a team that lacks a decisive scoring threat up front. Beckford needs to fulfill the promise he showed in the lower leagues. Whether Moyes can continue to wait for Beckford, Saha, or Yakuba to step up is to be seen. With their proximity to relegation, the urgency to fill this gap in January may be unable to ignore.