On Sunday afternoon, Chelsea registered their third successive league win after coming back from a goal down to defeat Everton 2-1 at Goodison Park.
The hosts dominated the first quarter of an hour, with Steven Pienaar netting just after 63 seconds and Nikica Jelavic striking the woodwork with a sublime free-kick minutes later.
The Blues, however, staged an impressive comeback with interim captain Frank Lampard scoring a brace to help the club leapfrog London rivals Tottenham Hotspur into third place in the Premier League.
Everton lined-up in a traditional, yet dynamic 4-4-2 formation.
Although Steven Pienaar originally started as the left-midfielder and Victor Anichebe as the second-striker, the two regularly interchanged their roles throughout the course of the game.
Particularly in the first-half, Pienaar played in the hole behind Jelavic, whereas Anichebe complemented the marauding Leighton Baines on the left flank. However, at the start of the second-half, Pienaar was reverted back to the left side of the pitch before usually cuting inside to again swap duties with his Nigerian counterpart.
Leon Osman and Thomas Hitzlsperger were deployed in the centre of the park, the latter filling in for the injured Darron Gibson and Phil Neville, and Steven Naismith took up the right flank.
For the visitors, Fernando Torres spearheaded the attack, with Juan Mata playing in his trademark No. 10 position. Eden Hazard occupied the left flank, while the typically more defensive Ramires started on the opposite flank; the Brazilian given the task of helping out Cesar Azpilicueta to mitigate the threat of Baines.
David Luiz and Lampard formed the core of Chelsea’s midfield, while Branislac Ivanovic occupied the centre-back role alongside Gary Cahill.
Everton’s Pressing and Early Domination
Everton clearly dominated the early proceedings of the game with some clever and impressive pressing skills.
Pienaar usually drifted back to stay close to the dangerous David Luiz and virtually shut the Brazilian down for the opening twenty minutes. Luiz’s pace and vision have been vital in forming the nexus between attack and defense and with this outlet stabbed out, Chelsea failed to get the ball to the likes of Mata and Torres.
The Blues did still have Frank Lampard to accomplish that job, but both Osman and Hitzlsperger either isolated him by pin-point man-marking or intercepted numerous of his forward passes during the early stages of the game, restricting the England international’s impact.
Thus, with no ammunition coming from the midfield, Mata was forced to fall back, which consequently left Torres without any support up front.
However, one might then wonder about the possibility of either Hazard or Ramires providing the lacking productivity from the wings, but the Toffees had their own plans for countering the duo.
Phil Jagielka defended deep for most of the match and thoroughly man-marked Hazard, whereas, Ramires, on the other hand, spent the first quarter of an hour or so on the defensive front to stop the lethal Baines.
Nonetheless, as effective as Everton were early on in the game, their inability to convert chances eventually came back to haunt them.
Chelsea Bounce Back
During the early stages of the match, Chelsea were unable form the link between the lines, allowing Moyes’ troops to claim a strong hold on the game.
However, as their playmaker Mata slowly cemented his stature in the game, Chelsea too began exploiting the gaps left by Everton’s pressing, via some quick and neat one-two passes.
Finally, Torres started to see more of the ball and the trio of Pienaar, Hitzlsperger and Osman were compelled to defend further back to avoid Mata, Ramires and Torres from getting into the space between the defense and midfield.
This resulted in two things.
First, like Torres, Jelavic was now left completely abandoned up front. Everton tried originating counter-attacks by playing long balls to the Croatia international, but the former Rangers star struggled to trouble Ivanovic and Cahill with his overall play.
Second, Luiz and Lampard were freed from man-marking the Everton players and were hence easily able to orchestrate the their side’s play. The latter even ventured up front un-tracked on multiple occasions; in-fact, both Chelsea goals came due to none of the Everton players marking the 34-year-old midfielder.
Benitez may have won the tactical battle this time around, but only after his team stuttered during the first 15-20 minutes away from home to tough opposition.
Nonetheless, the former Liverpool boss should be satisfied with the way his players performed, fought their way back into the match and, most importantly, did not concede a single point in one of the most daunting fixtures of the season.