The 4th Round replay of Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge needed penalties to decide the outcome, with the Merseyside club pulling out the upset. I chose to cover this match because Chelsea had a dilemma; they have a midweek Champions League match at Copenhagen. How much would Chelsea play their first team? Everton has been abysmal for much of the season. Would David Moyes go all out to keep their hopes for a title alive?
Both teams deployed their squads in 4-4-1-1 formations. This is an uncharacteristic formation for Chelsea. The Blues have drawn Everton twice this year, including a match in December at Stamford Bridge, and since he employed 4-3-3 for both of those matches, perhaps manager Carlo Ancelotti thought this would shuffle the deck a bit. For Chelsea, Didier Drogba was the primary striking forward, and Salomon Kalou assumed a deeper role than Drogba (though they often switched). Florent Malouda and Ramires were wide midfielders. A defensive switch was made from the Monday Fulham match, with David Luiz being spelled, and Branislav Ivanovic and Paulo Ferreira assuming roles at central defense and right back, respectively.
Everton was without Louis Saha, so Jermaine Beckford began as their striker, with Tim Cahill in the hole behind him. Leon Osman got the start at left midfield as an inside forward, in place of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.
This game was a great display of how the same formation can foster two different philosophies of play, mostly dictated by the strength of each club. Everton’s strength lies in their wide midfield, and thus the play was carried more by Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman on the wings. Chelsea enjoyed a lot of success building play through the middle, and to an extent through the long game. This may be influenced by their typical reliance on the 4-3-3 formation, whose success depends a lot on central midfield proficiency.
While they placed pressure on the Blues early in the game, as time progressed it was evident that Everton was happy to play for penalties, or at least not get caught out of position. Beckford might have had his poorest game since September. Much of their sustained attack suffered from one-too-many passes, with Seamus Coleman being particularly obvious for a few opportunities dashed in the final third.
The best chance for either team in the first half was from a set piece sent in by Frank Lampard. Everton’s Phil Jagielka mistimed his heading attempt, and the redirection was saved from the Toffees’ net by a diving Tim Howard. It struck the woodwork, and John Terry could not convert on the rebound. Another quality opportunity came in the 25th minute, when Lampard collected his own blocked shot and passed to Malouda, whose laced shot was kept out by Howard’s left knee.
The second half started with Michael Essien being substituted for John Obi Mikel. As Everton’s tactics became more defensive (Marouane Fellaini dropped further behind the midfield line, in particular), Chelsea responded by leveling the strikers and adjusting to a 4-4-2 diamond (Lampard as the attacking central midfielder). The Chelsea attack provided a barrage at Howard, but through the end of regulation time he was able to foil the Blues’ attempts. He was especially poised in the 64th minute, where Lampard redirected a Ramires cross on net from the doorstep, and Howard’s reflexes sent his right foot into the path of the shot in the nick of time.
By the time they brought Cahill off for Bilyaletdinov in the 70th minute, the Toffees had adjusted to 4-5-1, very centrally focused, trying to control the Chelsea midfield. Everton had fewer opportunities, but one in particular nearly earned them the victory near the end of regulation time. Off an 89th minute free kick, Petr Cech was unable to control a Baines shot from just outside the area. Fellaini moved in and knocked the ball past Cech. Unfortunately for Everton, Fellaini was barely offsides at the time of Baines’ drive. The game went to extra time without a goal.
After 13 minutes of extra time, 91st minute sub Nicolas Anelka created magic for the Blues. He broke around Baines and Distin on the right touchline, and at the byline crossed the ball. Drogba chested it down, and Lampard’s ready right foot was true. It looked like the winning goal; after all, Everton had exhausted their substitutions, Beckford for Victor Anichebe and Leon Osman for defensive-minded Johnny Heitinga. A team that has struggled to score goals throughout the season lacked a bonafide open-play goalscoring threat on the field.
Moye’s response was to turn the 4-5-1 to 4-3-3: the tall Fellaini as center forward, Anichebe and Coleman to the wings, and Jagielka joining the attack on the rush (as shown below). In the 118th minute, Jagielka was fouled two yards outside the penalty area on an aerial challenge by Ivanovic. A curling, perfectly-placed left-footed free kick by Baines provided Everton new life at 1-1.
In the penalty shootout, Chelsea opened a 1-0 lead after Baines’ effort was saved by Cech. To be fair to the contestants, it appeared as if the spot was not in good shape, dimpled a bit in the center. In another oddity the referee, Mr. Dowd, seemed to station himself uncharacteristically close to the spot. A high shot from Anelka was stifled by Howard’s flaring left hand. This evened the shootout after Arteta made his shot, 2-2. After Essien and Heitinga converted, the penultimate moment occured as Ashley Cole lined up his shot. He seemed to be unsure about the spot’s integrity. His powerful left foot drove the ball well wide and high. Skipper Phil Neville sent Everton on to face Reading, with a high shot to his left.
It was an entertaining match, but another close one that Chelsea seems to routinely tie or lose. There is little confidence right now at Stamford Bridge, a stark contrast to their September psyche which screamed “Champion.” Roman Abramovich certainly isn’t happy with consolation prizes.