“Every time I won the league title I had a couple of matches where we won in the last minute . . .” An ominous remark from José Mourinho as the balance of power and momentum in the title race was retained in West London. A resilient Everton rearguard was eventually broken down by a stubborn Chelsea performance that epitomised the spirit Mourinho has instilled in his players. A powerful, mildly-deflected effort from Willian in the 89th minute was the first goal conceded in four Premier League games by a resurgent Toffees defence.
It’s often said that a sign of great teams is winning when playing poorly. This idea rang true as Everton didn’t give an inch to the champions-elect whose attackers fed off scraps during a competitive encounter short on quality. Chelsea missed the cutting edge of the banned Diego Costa up front with Loic Remy struggling in his place. Former Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku also failed to impress on his return to Stamford Bridge, with Petr Cech in inspired form to stop the big Belgian from netting. A left-footed stop from point-blank range was particularly impressive, but make no mistake that Everton’s £28m summer acquisition should have been burying such a golden chance against one of the league’s meanest defences.
Cech once again displayed the wealth of goalkeeping talent available to Mourinho, a goalkeeper of such quality that he would displace almost all first-choice Premier League keepers, David de Gea apart. Should Chelsea still be top of the table come May, Cech is now guaranteed a coveted Premier League medal. This match was ultimately a showdown of two quality goalkeepers and unfortunately for Tim Howard he could not end the night with a clean sheet. The American shotstopper, recently back from injury, showed glimpses of his World Cup form by making a host of saves from Chelsea efforts that came through Hazard, Willian and a Matic free-kick. A second placed effort from the former Benfica man did find its way past Howard but only by virtue of a deflection from the offside Branislav Ivanovic.
Everton themselves did not end the night with 11 players after Gareth Barry saw a second yellow for a poorly-timed tackle on the eventual goalscorer Willian. Barry holds the unenviable record of being the league’s most booked player. His action set off a heated exchange between the two sets of players, with the heavily involved Ivanovic bizarrely wrapping his arm around James McCarthy’s neck and then leaning his head into the Irish international. This was not spotted by referee Jonathan Moss but there is the possibility of retrospective action being taken against the Serbian.
When the free-kick resulting from Barry’s foul was finally taken, it was Ivanovic on the end of it; much to the grievance of Roberto Martinez and his troops. The Chelsea full-back’s header was punched clear by Howard but only to the feet of Willian, whose daisy-cutter took a slight deflection off Steven Naismith before rifling between Howard and his near post.
Coming to Stamford Bridge is a tough test for any team in the league and this loss won’t be a defining one for an Everton side that has regained some of last season’s defensive stability despite being without Leighton Baines in recent weeks. For Chelsea, the celebrations of the players and their manager at the final whistle portrayed exactly how defining a victory this could be for the title chasers.