Ancelotti claims off-key Chelsea can still mount league challenge

Everton 1 Chelsea 1
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The Independent Football

On Saturday you could see why the £50m release clause in Fernando Torres' contract might not be the insurmountable barrier to Chelsea buying the striker that Liverpool imagined it to be. You saw it in Didier Drogba's dives; the constant attempts to thread Nicolas Anelka through Everton's defensive wall and the way in which a full-strength side went over to applaud their supporters after a draw that the majority in the away dressing room thought fortunate.

Everton have existed all season without a major contribution from their centre-forwards but Anelka and Drogba will turn 32 and 33 within a few days of each other in March, and unlike Manchester United or Arsenal, Chelsea under Roman Abramovich have never been the kind of club that buys young footballers and trusts they will make the grade. Their market is high-quality players, ready-made and off the peg. Torres fits that category. He, like Drogba and Anelka, has a birthday in March but it will be his 27th and at Stamford Bridge that will do fine.

Nevertheless, had Chelsea not suffered the kind of seizure that saw them fail to win eight out of nine league games between the middle of November and the beginning of January, Abramovich may not have sanctioned the spending of nearly £70m on Torres and Benfica's David Luiz.

The fact that Torres is ineligible for the FA Cup means his talents, if and when they arrive, will be funnelled towards the Champions League and Chelsea's attempt to cling on to their title and, 10 points adrift of Manchester United with 15 matches remaining, their grip is a loose one.

Tomorrow they travel to Sunderland, who began the slide with a 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in what Sir Alex Ferguson described as one of the few "perfect performances" he had seen as a Premier League manager.

"Maybe Sunderland can play as well as they did then but they will find a different Chelsea," said Carlo Ancelotti. "That was the start of our bad moment but we are in a different moment now. It is not that the squad is too old. We had a difficult time but we were without Lampard, without Essien and without Drogba. It was very difficult to maintain a good level of football without these players. Usually, when things are not good, everyone mentions the players who are over 30 but we have young players in Ramires and Josh McEachran who is 17."

There were those who thought that Chelsea's back-to-back wins against Blackburn and Bolton had drawn a line under the creaking displays that turned Ancelotti's side from favourites to also-rans in six disastrous weeks.

However, here they looked diffident and out of sorts. But for some superb goalkeeping from Petr Cech and a wonderful block by Michael Essien to deny Seamus Coleman, Chelsea would have made their earliest exit from the FA Cup for 13 years and Everton would have gained a measure of revenge for defeat in the 2009 final when Louis Saha had also scored the opening goal.

Ancelotti argued that Everton had played so well because they needed to win at Goodison and would not relish the replay in London and that even if Liverpool succeeded in blocking the sale of Torres, they had sufficient strength to last until May. "We won the Double with these players," Ancelotti said. "And we will try to do the same with these players."

Everton (4-5-1) Howard; Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Coleman, Arteta, Fellaini, Rodwell (Beckford, 86), Bilyaletdinov; Saha. Substitutes not used Mucha (gk), Hibbert, Jagielka, Gueye, Osman, Baxter. Chelsea (4-3-2-1) Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Essien, Lampard (Mikel, 85); Malouda (Kalou, 70), Anelka; Drogba. Substitutes not used Hilario (gk), Ferreira, Bruma, McEachran, Sala.

Man of the match Coleman.

Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire)

Att 28,376