Chelsea are not going to make it to the Champions League next season. You heard it hear first.
That’s not the most disconcerting aspect to all of this. It’s the dawning realization that the Blues may not even make it to the Europa League, that should keep Chelsea fans up at night with the wide-eyed bewilderment currently writ large on Roman Abramovich’s face.
Everton at Goodison Park was always going to be a difficult proposition for Chelsea. Just how difficult, was not necessarily apparent to the men in blue, who seemed to have been completely caught off-guard by a Steven Naismith, who was more of a malevolent force of nature than human, this afternoon. Mourinho was especially brusque prior to the start of the game, cutting off a reporter with a rather curt assessment that it was too long an interview before a match.
Chelsea started as the scrappier of the two sides but Mourinho’s men also showed promise with some dazzling footwork. Everton were almost immediately neater in defence and content to let Chelsea retain pointless possession of the ball. It was around the 9th minute that Everton were forced into an unplanned change having to take off warhorse Muhamed Besic, and bring on Steven Naismith. That would prove to be a pivotal moment, as the Rangers man offered Everton a new degree of flexibility in its arsenal.
In Naimsith, Everton had a man who once played as a striker, and can play with equal aplomb on both flanks. Against a Chelsea midfield bereft of imagination and talent, that versatility was always going to be the gift that keeps on giving. Naismith ended the game with a perfect hat-trick– goals scored off a header, his left foot and his right.
Jose Mourinho puzzled with his team selection, in opting for the underperforming Ivanovic and Fabregas. A four-man backline seems particularly sparse in the light of Chelsea’s recent troubles, and going in with Zouma and Terry while Cahill held fort on the bench was never going to be enough.
Chelsea would have been far better served with the experience of Cahill and Terry in central defence with Zouma sitting right in front of them, to mop up threats before they even materialized. Chelsea’s coaching team should have realized the onus was on Chelsea to avoid yet another defeat, and at least pretend that a creditable draw was evidence of their gradual return to form.
Mourinho’s third-year woes have come back to haunt him, with an extended absence from Courtois and no Petr Cech to replace him. Begovic is a talented goalkeeper but does not have the first-team gravitas needed at a big club to command his backline. The confusion apparent in Chelsea’s backline let Everton’s wingers and front-men carve the defending champions at will.
Even with the lion’s share of possession, the only goal the Blues could manage was courtesy Nemanja Matic who struck against the run of play, in the unlikeliest of circumstances– off a John Obi Mikel assist. It was a shame that Everton had to concede in such fashion, because a clean sheet would have really helped their confidence going into the second half.
Diego Costa was a permanent presence near the Everton goal, constantly sticking himself in the Toffees’ faces. His threat level waxed and waned as the game progressed, with Jagielka’s resolute defending and Stone’s ability to give as good as he gets, getting in between the Brazilian-born Spaniard and the scoresheet. Coleman at right-back was especially tidy in neutralising Chelsea’s attacking threats before they petered out. Ivanovic, desperately struggling to regain some semblance of form, seemed hell-bent on getting on the scoresheet content to leave Galloway, Naismith and Barkley to roam unrestricted on Chelsea’s right.
Once Naismith got onto the score-sheet in the 17th minute, all it took was another 5 minutes to grab his second. Chelsea seemed to come alive late in the second half as they chased an equalizer, and possibly even a winner. But once Willian sent a corner out of play, all of the pressure Mourinho’s men had built up dissipated and Everton– and Naismith no less– hurt them on the counter yet again.
At 3-1, Chelsea were left hoping for no additional nails in the coffin. It was a terrific team performance from Everton, with Stones proving just why he’s rated so highly. The Toffees were relaxed and commanding in midfield, as Kone, Barry and McCarthy dictated the pace of the game. Tim Howard had barely anything to do of note, but he won’t be complaining after the horrendous day Asmir Begovic just had.
But in the end, this victory was Steven Naismith’s making. The former Rangers man was sharp, dedicated and eager to prove his worth after having to play second-fiddle to Besic.
Chelsea’s problems stem from a broken dressing room spirit, and an unhappy team atmosphere, exacerbated perhaps by Mourinho’s shoddy treatment of Eva Carneiro. The Portuguese tactician is unhappy with his job, his team and his staff. Greater factors are at play here, than what is evidently visible.
Jose Mourinho seems confident he will stay at Chelsea FC for the foreseeable future. And that is the problem.