Everton 1–1 Chelsea – Toffees outplay champions to force FA Cup replay

(You can find my story at A Different League)

Sunday 30 January 2011

Everton put in a sterling performance against Chelsea at Goodison Park on Saturday and were the better team for much of the match, however, indecisive finishing, last-ditch defending and tactical naivety mean the Toffees will have to win at Stamford Bridge if they plan to progress in the FA Cup.

In the usual manner of a lunchtime kick-off, both teams struggled to gain an immediate foothold in the game and it wasn’t until the second half that the match really came alive. While Everton enjoyed more possession and a number of clear-cut opportunities it was Chelsea exhibiting the ability to pick up results even when off-colour, a skill that had apparently deserted them in recent months.

The Merseysiders looked relatively comfortable following Louis Saha’s emphatic header from the impressive Leighton Baines’ corner but the game swung on a brief passage of play just past the hour. In the 73rd minute Seamus Coleman had a header saved by Petr Cech and, when the follow-up dropped invitingly, it seemed as though the right back would send Everton through. Instead, Michael Essien made a terrific sliding block to deny Coleman’s goal-bound effort and within a minute, Chelsea was level. The ensuing corner resulted in a breakaway for the Londoners. Nicolas Anelka fed substitute Salomon Kalou who slipped away from Sylvain Distin and found the bottom corner of Tim Howard’s net.

Everton had only themselves to blame as Chelsea almost scored in exactly the same fashion just minutes later. While Everton did score from a corner, these chances suggested David Moyes’ tactics were not geared towards stopping Chelsea from counter-attacking; odd when considering the champions’ devastating quality on the break. As neither side could find the winner a replay, which both teams wanted to avoid, now awaits.

One bright spark on an otherwise unremarkable day for Carlo Ancelotti was undoubtedly the performance of Ramires in midfield. The Brazilian, who has struggled to adapt to the English game following his £16 million summer move, was the most impressive midfielder on the park; Everton’s Jack Rodwell running him a close second. With Frank Lampard still trying to find form and fitness, the 23-year-old showed a drive and determination that has previously only flickered. He was denied a fantastic 25-yard winner by the upright and also defended admirably, blocking Saha’s volley at the back post in the 52nd minute.

While the promising midfielder clearly has some way to go before being considered an automatic choice for the Premiership champions, Chelsea fans will be hoping that this was the day Ramires finally showed his capabilities. Exhibiting energy, pace and both defensive and attacking talent, he may yet have a bright future in England.

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