Party postponed, but the carnival continues. Chelsea's progress to their second Premiership title has been so serene that Roman Abramovich watched the second half yesterday leaning casually against the window of his executive box as the April sun shone on Stamford Bridge and his team eviscerated Everton. And they say money cannot buy you happiness.
Another grunt of defiance from Manchester United was met with a roar of intent from Jose Mourinho's side, who ground the resistance out of an Everton team reduced to 10 men by Lee Carsley's dismissal. The matter of the title would have been settled had United not beaten Tottenham but, with the trophy now just one point away, it was the manner of Everton's destruction that lingered in the mind. Chelsea's 28th win of the season was no less emphatic than the rest.
The visit of United on 29 April was, Didier Drogba said yesterday, "the final that everyone has been waiting for" but it will mean so much more to Sir Alex Ferguson than the team who seem to have been waiting to be awarded the Premiership trophy since August. Forming a guard of honour for the champions Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2004 was galling enough for United, doing so after being swept away by Chelsea later this month might prove too much for Ferguson's players to bear.
"I just hope my brother can score a 40-yard screamer," said Gary Neville after United beat Tottenham at lunchtime and, while Phil Neville was one of Everton's better performers, it would have taken an event as unlikely as a goal from the right-back to change the course of this match. It turned in Chelsea's favour with Frank Lampard's goal on 28 minutes and ended as a contest when Carsley was shown a straight red two minutes after half-time for a foul on Drogba.
What do Carsley, Tottenham's Mido, Ricardo Gardner of Bolton, and Manchester City's Sylvain Distin all have in common? They have all been sent off against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge by referee Rob Styles this season although only Carsley can have cause for complaint because, while his tackle was a definite booking, it lacked the edge of malice for an upgrade to red. David Moyes was scathing of an official he described as "star-struck".
The Everton manager called it a "mistake that ruined the game" and he did not stop there. Arjen Robben, he argued, should have been booked for coming back on to the pitch 20 seconds after the second half had kicked off without waiting for the referee's acknowledgement. And he described the decision to award Chelsea an indirect free-kick in the Everton penalty area for a back-pass by Leon Osman as the decision of someone "who had never played the game". He was correct but there would, you suspect, have been no mercy from Chelsea against 10 men or 11. They started with all the urgency of a pre-season friendly and then, as they have done at home all season, conjured a goal from nowhere. When Lampard ran on to Drogba's pass on 28 minutes it was hard to recall a serious chance.
Drogba had dragged the ball away from Tim Cahill down by the touchline and, as he made his way forward, the Chelsea striker raised his palms in frustration as if to ask where he was supposed to play a ball among a group of his team-mates. The answer should have been obvious. Coming up fast was Lampard who may not have struck his 20th goal of the season as sweetly as usual but he beat Richard Wright all the same.
It makes the total for Lampard 39 goals in two seasons over all competitions, a staggering record, and so many of them have been like that one yesterday, a stealthy run to the edge of the box and a low, well-chosen shot. No Chelsea player has scored 20 in a season since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink four years ago, and no English midfielder, not even Steven Gerrard, can compete.
Petr Cech's clash with James Beattie meant that the goalkeeper was substituted at half-time with a knee problem - Beattie failing to keep his shot under the bar. Just after the hour, Everton failed to pick up Drogba at a corner and he headed home the second goal, celebrating with a kiss for the only woman in Stamford Bridge who had thought to bring along an Ivory Coast flag.
The third Chelsea goal on 73 minutes began with the free-kick that was conceded by Osman. It was not a pass-back to Wright, Moyes said, but a simple mis-control of the ball that ended up rolling to the Everton goalkeeper who, Styles might argue, should not have picked it up. From 16 yards, Lampard's charged-down shot rebounded to Claude Makelele. He picked out Essien who marauded past two challenges and struck a vicious rising shot past Wright.
Mourinho affected indifference when it came to the question of beating United to win the title the Saturday after next. As long as Ferguson continues to claim the season is alive, the Chelsea manager's attitude will surely be different on the day.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech (Cudicini, h-t); Geremi, Terry, Gallas, Del Horno; Makelele; Lampard, Essien, Robben; Drogba (Cole, 63), Crespo (Wright-Phillips, 74). Substitutes not used: Duff, Huth.
Everton (4-3-1-2): Wright; Neville, Weir, Yobo, Naysmith; Cahill, Carsley, Kilbane (Ferguson, 70); Osman; McFadden, Beattie (Davies, 70). Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Ferrari, Van der Meyde.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).Reuse content