A classic Frank Lampard display was enough to earn Chelsea a 2-1 victory at Goodison Park as the Londoners came from behind to win.
The Pensioners fell behind just a minute after kick-off when Steven Pienaar smashed home after Chelsea failed to clear. Rafael Benitez’s men rallied though and pulled level minutes before the break, Lampard heading accurately from Ramires’ cross. The game was up for grabs in an enthralling second half, with Everton going close moments before Lampard’s winner when the England man converted from close range after Tim Howard had saved well.
The win sees Chelsea sign off 2012 in very good form, having improved since Benitez took charge in November and taking nine points from three games over the hectic Christmas schedule. Those games included the 8-0 thrashing of Aston Villa as well as the tricky away ties against Norwich on Boxing Day and this top of the table clash at Goodison Park. David Moyes’ side were looking to move into the top four with a win and were unbeaten in seven going into this game.
And Moyes could not have asked for a better start to the game as Everton took the lead less than two minutes into the match. The Merseysiders have a good record on home turf against Chelsea, winning three and drawing one of their last four encounters. Phil Jagielka found space deep down Chelsea’s left and his cross was agonisingly close to being converted by Victor Anichebe whose header struck the post. But the rebound was followed up by the lively Pienaar who made no mistake in hitting the back of the net.
Chelsea took some time to find their rhythm in this game, whilst Everton could have ran away with it in the opening exchanges had they been more clinical in front of goal. Nikica Jelavic hit the post with a free-kick and Leon Osman- Everton’s man in form this term in Marouane Fellaini’s absence- should have scored but for a strong arm from Petr Cech low to his right. The intelligence and quick play from Piennar and Osman in Everton’s middle was causing Chelsea problems, however Benitez’s side eventually responded with their own brand of pass and move.
Juan Mata – so often Chelsea’s inspiration this season – began to seize control of the game, and in Ramires, Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres the Spaniard has a supporting cast willing to run channels and drag the opposition away to create space. Ramires ran from the half way line un-opposed with a powerful run before being crowded out by blue shirts, whilst Mata himself would have got his shot away but for a desperate Johnny Heitinga tackle.
With Chelsea now having a firm grasp of possession, they sought out the equaliser and it came in a familiar form just before the break. A corner had only been half dealt with, and Ramires had time to pick out Lampard who had ghosted into the box unmarked and headed home his fifth of the season.
But it was Everton who looked the more sprightly again as the teams resumed play in the second half, and again they had chances to take the lead. Piennar had moved back to the left hand side and continued his almost telepathic partnership with Leighton Baines, the two combining on more than one occasion to put Chelsea on the back foot. Jelavic met a teasing Baines cross with his head and while his effort flew past Ross Turnbull (a second half substitute for Cech), the Croat could only watch the ball bounce back off the crossbar.
At the other end, Torres went close with a snap-shot on the turn that produced the best from Howard; the USA keeper showing quick reflexes to parry the ball away. But on 73 minutes, just after Everton had almost took the lead themselves, Lampard struck again. Mata- who enjoyed a spectacular showing before later being withdrawn- crossed for Hazard who nodded back across goal. Mata’s effort was well saved by Howard but Lampard was in the right place to poke home the rebound from close range, sending the away fans into raptures.
But there was still time for Everton to find a way back and after plenty of pressure they almost did in the dying minutes when Baines’ cross found its way through a crowded penalty area. Jelavic was lurking but the striker could not react well enough and the ball was diverted safely into Turnbull’s hands. Osman then went down under a Lampard challenge on the edge of the area, and Howard Webb’s decision not to give it had Moyes furious.
But Chelsea weathered the storm to claim three vital points as they seek to move away from the chasing “4th place” pack (including Everton) and try and catch up with the two Manchester sides. There was talk of this being Lampard’s last season at the Bridge, after a summer philosophy of ‘out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new’ but the England midfielder showed his worth here. Chelsea have not lost in the 11 games that Lampard has appeared in, winning 10 of those games. The old-guard could well have a role to play in a Chelsea side that is starting to look every bit worthy of their ‘European Champions’ status.