Feb 242014

Striker problems persist

The signs were ominous. With Romelu Lukaku fit but ineligible, and Lacina Traore withdrawn before (Free £25 bet offer) Kick-off with a hamstring injury, the Blues’ striking woe was always going to be a continuing theme.

So it proved – though not through a lack of enthusiasm or endeavour from the away side.

With the last-minute change of personnel, Steven Naismith was thrust into the starting line-up. That uncertainty was evident throughout, as both he and Kevin Mirallas figured out which would be the main goal threat.

Naismith was central but dropped deep to collect the ball, attempting to involve Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar. Mirallas, meanwhile, was wider but looked to penetrate Chelsea’s back line more.

This often left the penalty box bereft of anybody in white.

For all the nice work in midfield, it never quite worked where it really matters – evidenced by Everton having just two shots on target, both from Osman, both well saved by Petr Cech. Mirallas had a decent effort in the first half blocked, but Naismith did not register a single shot on goal in the 90 minutes.

Whether Lukaku would have made a difference is unknown, but with the Belgian deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea this season, it highlights the gulf between the two sides’ resources.

Everton's Steven Naismith in action against Chelsea's Gary Cahill during the Premiership match at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda) Everton’s Steven Naismith in action against Chelsea’s Gary Cahill during the Premiership match at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Gareth Barry shows continental quality

A lot of praise has been given to James McCarthy for his showing on Saturday, and rightfully so.

The young Irishman was a buzzsaw, slicing through the Chelsea midfield while holding together his own.

But Gareth Barry enjoyed an astonishing afternoon and did something so few have done this season – kept the tricky trident of Eden Hazard, Willian and Oscar quiet.

Such was his showing, Jose Mourinho withdrew Oscar at half time, while Willian would be taken off after an hour.

Barry was everywhere, making 77 touches – more than any other Everton player bar Leighton Baines – and providing a platform for McCarthy to operate a little further forward.

It was his defensive duties that impressed most however, with six tackles, five clearances and nine recoveries of loose balls.

Better still, this came both on his favoured left-hand side and also on the right, showing how both Baines and Seamus Coleman can feel safe advancing up the pitch with the midfielder plugging the gaps.

In keeping two Brazilians and a brilliant Belgian quiet, Barry cannot do much more to stake a claim for a place in the England squad.

Chelsea's Samuel Eto'o and Everton's Gareth Barry Chelsea’s Samuel Eto’o and Everton’s Gareth Barry

Just one of those games

Sometimes, analysis and statistics be damned. Everton were the better side against Chelsea and looked fresher, sharper, and classier – but a set-piece deep into stoppage time, with a free-kick that was never a free-kick, was their undoing.

It happens. They matched Chelsea in most areas, and bettered them in some others – but the vital statistic, the scoreline, was the one that did not go the Toffees’ way.

This was an Everton side who could match their table-topping rivals, much like they did against Arsenal earlier in the season. To travel to sides at top of the Premier League and perform better than them is encouraging.

But, as it was also against Tottenham, the three points were not secured. That, too, was decided by a contentious refereeing decision.

Despite being arguably better in all three games, they took just one point from nine.

These games happen, but maybe for the Blues, they are happening too often. ECHO reporter Greg O’Keeffe wrote of Martinez’s “rueful glance towards the turf, a half-shake of his head and a passing sombre expression which could be interpreted as knowing”.

It seems Martinez does know, and it is up to him to rectify it – but some kinder refereeing wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Everton's manager Roberto Martinez during the Premiership match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Everton’s manager Roberto Martinez during the Premiership match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.  

Possession is pretty but mean streak required

The discourse and debate over possession has reached breaking point. The importance attached upon it, with sides like Barcelona and Bayern Munich flourishing, has sprouted a snide, sneering movement against it.

Possession does matter, but there must be an end product to it.

Roberto Martinez must be wary of his side do not become one that – to borrow a phrase used against Liverpool last season – “wins the passing”, but does not win football matches.

They enjoyed 53% of the ball – enjoyed being the key word, as they zipped the ball about and created angles for runners.

Their 453 passes to Chelsea’s 403, with identical passing accuracy, highlights just how well they used the ball.

But though Everton were the better side at Stamford Bridge, they were outfought in the tackles, as well as coming out second-best with balls contested both on the ground and in the air.

That is not to suggest Martinez’s men lack a tough exterior – just 27 goals conceded demonstrates their solidity.

But sometimes the pretty passing must have an end product, and a meaner streak needs to accompany it.

Everton's Sylvain Distin in action against Chelsea's Samuel Eto'o during the Premiership match at Stamford Bridge. Everton’s Sylvain Distin in action against Chelsea’s Samuel Eto’o during the Premiership match at Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho speaks well of Martinez

How nice it was to hear Mourinho praise Everton, and Martinez, after the game.

The Spaniard should be sure to video the Portuguese’s post-match comments, print out his words and laminate them.

“They played well,” he said afterwards. “They controlled parts of the game and they were very comfortable on the ball. They don’t create many chances but their quality in possession is equal to anyone else in the Premier League.”

Mourinho is very selective in his praise. Usually, he gives kudos those who he does not deem a threat.

With that in mind, the Blues will hope this is the last time Jose is so nice to Martinez and his side.

It is for both manager and players to make sure the next time Mourinho speaks of them, it is with a forked tongue as opposed to a favourable one.

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho during the Premiership match against Everton at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho during the Premiership match against Everton at Stamford Bridge.


More Everton FC news

Read Greg O’Keeffe’s match report on Everton’s 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, while Phil Kirkbride writes of Martinez’s relationship with the Barca style of football.

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