Villas-Boas admits fourth is a must as the pressure grows
Everton 2 Chelsea 0
Monday 13 February 2012
There are several good reasons why the modern Everton and Chelsea can appear the very antithesis of each other and David Moyes picked out one in his programme notes on Saturday, remarking that in Andre Villas-Boas he was facing his seventh Chelsea manager since taking the Goodison helm 10 years ago next month.
Should Moyes still be Everton manager next season – and Goodison loyalists could be forgiven for watching events at White Hart Lane with some concern – then that number will likely have risen to eight if Chelsea's campaign continues on its current course.
The "continuity and stability" that Moyes, in his words, has enjoyed do not feature in the vocabulary of the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, and Villas-Boas himself acknowledged after this deserved defeat that the excuse of a season of transition will not rub with the Russian should the Londoners miss out on the Champions League gravy train for the first time in a decade.
Carlo Ancelotti was sacked in a Goodison corridor last May for finishing second, and on an afternoon when Chelsea slipped to fifth, it was easy to fear for the 34-year-old's prospects. "Of course," replied the Portuguese when asked whether he regarded fourth place as his minimum requirement. "We need Champions League qualification and that's what we expect. The objective is first place but first place is not a real objective any more – and neither is second."
Chelsea announced last month a £67.7m loss in the year to June 2011 and can seemingly ill afford the absence of Champions League revenue if they are to fulfil Uefa's fair-play requirements. "There are still plenty of games to play so I cannot give a perspective on that," said Villas-Boas of the potential damage of missing out. While winnable-looking fixtures against Bolton, West Brom and Stoke follow the FA Cup tie with Birmingham, Saturday's listless showing was the worst way to end a week in which Abramovich had made his presence felt at the Cobham training ground.
Chelsea have taken three points from their last four league fixtures and it was easy to see why. Fernando Torres had another unhappy afternoon – his booking means the £50m man now has five yellow cards to three Premier League goals for Chelsea – but he was not alone. The visitors were sloppy in defence – stray passes by Petr Cech and Ashley Cole presented Everton with first-half shooting opportunities – and further upfield lacked the width and invention to trouble Moyes's men, bar two Juan Mata passes from which Daniel Sturridge and Frank Lampard shot off target.
Villas-Boas's attempt to improve things by introducing Florent Malouda on the left and pushing Mata, as he explained, "between the lines" earned jeers from his own fans; he defended that change but admitted there were grounds for complaint. "We conceded an early goal and took the initiative straight after but couldn't create enough danger and in the second half we were very, very poor."
A resurgent Everton were everything Chelsea were not. Moyes's January signings have transformed the mood and after Darron Gibson's winner against Manchester City in their previous Goodison outing, it was another of the new arrivals, the returning Steven Pienaar, who provided the platform for victory with his early goal, lashed into the roof of Cech's net. The South African made only five league starts in 12 months at Tottenham but, with his jinking runs and clever link-up play, showed just why Moyes's players were so thrilled to have him back.
Everton's second goal was the work of two other loanees, Denis Stracqualursi recording his first Premier League strike after good work by Landon Donovan. The Argentinian forward, recruited on a season's loan from Tigre on deadline day last August, is becoming an unlikely cult hero; more battering-ram than Batistuta, his tireless approach ensured new boy Nikica Jelavic's absence with a muscle strain was not felt. "We buy someone for £5m and suddenly you find the person already here steps up," said Moyes after Stracqualursi, as against Man City, wore down a Chelsea defence missing John Terry.
"I think he's changed everyone's minds with what he's done for us. He's given us an energy maybe we were lacking and that's got us back to the Everton who are hard-working, and early in the season you could not say that was the case."
When Everton are on a roll like this, it begs the question what Moyes could achieve with a bigger budget. "You're constantly trying to find a solution to get some points," he reflected of this season's struggles. He has his solution for now: the beleaguered Villas-Boas needs one fast.
Everton: HOWARD 6/10; NEVILLE 6; HEITINGA 7; DISTIN 7; BAINES 7; GIBSON 6; FELLAINI 8; DONOVAN 7; CAHILL 6; PIENAAR 9; STRACQUALURSI 8
Chelsea: CECH 4; COLE 5; LUIZ 5; IVANOVIC 6; BOSINGWA 5; LAMPARD 6; ESSIEN 6; MEIRELES 4; MATA 6; TORRES 4; STURRIDGE 5
Scorers: Everton Pienaar 5, Stracqualursi 71.
Substitutes: Everton Drenthe (Pienaar, 75), Hibbert (Gibson, 89), Duffy (Stracqualursi, 90). Chelsea Malouda 6 (Essien, 69), Bertrand (Cole, 77), Lukaku (Mata, 77).
Booked: Chelsea Meireles, Bosingwa, Torres.
Man of the match Pienaar.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Everton 48% Chelsea 52%
Attempts on target: Everton 7 Chelsea 7
Referee M Jones (Cheshire). Attendance 33,924.
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