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Chelsea close gap on City with comfortable win


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matarambo.jpgChelsea 3-1 Everton

Chelsea end Toffees hoodoo to close gap on Manchester clubs

Andre Villas-Boas' Chelsea side continued their dogged pursuit of Manchester City and Manchester United with a comfortable win over Everton at Stamford Bridge.

With Manchester United just about battling to a scarcely-deserved point against Liverpool at Anfield, the incentive was clear for the Portuguese tactician - win, and his side would close the gap on second-placed United to a single point, whilst continuing to tread on the coat-tails of table-topping City.

Such a result was no given, however; the Toffees' recent record at Stamford Bridge is an impressive one, and having knocked the Blues out of the FA Cup on penalties in West London last season, even an Everton side devastated by defeat in the Merseyside derby prior to the international break would enter the match buoyed by previous endeavours.

I would be no cliché to say that the Toffees have become sticky opposition for Chelsea in recent seasons, particularly during the Ancelotti era - the Italian could only boast two draws from his five meetings with David Moyes, though it would be fair to state a fair degree of misfortune in those fixtures had swung the pendulum in Everton's favour. There was to be no such problem for Villas-Boas, however, as the young Portuguese coach inspired his side to a fourth straight home league win to keep the pressure on the Manchester clubs.

Whilst City continue to dominate teams into submission - previously-unbeaten Aston Villa the latest to feel the full force of the vibrant attacking options at Roberto Mancini's disposal - and United salvaging a draw away at Liverpool despite being second-best for most of the encounter, Villas-Boas' charges are ambling along at the steady pace. However, they are doing it by playing an intelligent and entertaining brand of football.

Recalls were handed to Branislav Ivanovic and John Mikel Obi as David Luiz and Raul Meireles were rested following intensive international action in midweek, but even that brace of changes at the heart of the team failed to disrupt the same passing fluency that has begun to characterise the West London outfit under Villas-Boas' tutelage.

At time matched by Everton's physical proficiency, the game served as a reminder to Chelsea that sometimes you have to earn the right to play your tidy football, and the Merseysiders would need to be matched man-for-man before they could be technically outdone.

This was a contest decided by three moments of brilliance, each of them typifying the efficiency and variety of the electric attack boasted by Chelsea in recent times. With Didier Drogba's brutish power being complimented by the effervescence of Daniel Sturridge, Juan Mata's ingenuity and John Mikel Obi's brutish-but-elegant dominance of the midfield creating a fully-functioning, though somewhat juxtaposed creative hub in the centre of the pitch, and the marauding aspect of full-backs Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole, the fluidity and incisiveness of each Chelsea attack is an absolute joy to watch.

Negativity is almost a thing of the past at Stamford Bridge. Any memories of the at-times tentative style of Ancelotti's second season - inspired by backwards passed - are quickly addressed by a torrent of sighs and groans. The Chelsea crowd have become expectant, but against Everton, they demonstrated not only their pretty style of play, but also that their ability to do the nitty-gritty has not yet diminished.

One certainty of David Moyes' side is that they will give as good as they get - but they were woefully outmatched by the volume of Chelsea firepower. Drogba, Sturridge and Mata caused them no end of problems, and with Ramires and Frank Lampard surging forwards at will - and Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka also entering the fray to truly bamboozle and dishearten the Toffees faithful, the gruelling journey back to Merseyside will at least have been muted by a late rally being rewarded with a goal to celebrate.

That late consolation goal from substitute Apostolos Vellios came from Everton's first real effort of note. Besides for a Louis Saha effort that Petr Cech grasped at the second attempt and a brace of efforts from Leon Osman; one of which kissing the base of the left-hand upright, Everton were a subdued force and their display belied the lack of attacking options available to Moyes.

The late introduction of Royston Drenthe added some thrust to the Toffees' play and he contributed the assist to Vellios' strike, but the game had long been over by that point. It would at least be a memorable moment for the young Greek starlet.

Perhaps the greatest criticism of this Chelsea team away at Old Trafford in September was a lack of clinical finishing. That lesson has been learnt and then some. Villas-Boas' ideology of fighting fire with fire has been perceived as naive by some cynics, the reality is that Chelsea are an all-out attacking force with the mindframe of scoring more goals than the opposition. It sounds a simplistic objective, but shooting practice is really paying rich dividends at present, as three clinical finishes put the sword to the beleaguered Merseysiders.

A forgettable first thirty minutes was well and truly reduced to insignificance as the Blues moved through the gears for the first time as Daniel Sturridge headed home his fourth Premier League goal of the campaign. After John Mikel Obi had excelled at the other end of the pitch to deny the Toffees the opening goal, the Nigerian began the defence-splitting move by passing to Drogba, who combined quickly with Juan Mata. The Spaniard's deft chip found Cole in space, and he lofted the ball up for the oncoming Sturridge to head home with aplomb.

The interval approached with Chelsea having assumed control of the game, and it was essentially won as soon as John Terry netted his second of the campaign from Lampard's free-kick. It is an age-old combination and one that continues to delight the Stamford Bridge crowd - Lampard's delivery was whipped in with ferocious pace and Tim Howard could only flap at fresh air as Terry beat him to the ball to glance home.

That handed Chelsea a degree of comfort as they emerged for the second half, but that was almost undone when Leon Osman hit Cech's post with a well-taken effort. A timely reminder that Everton were not yet extinguished as an attacking unit themselves only served as encouragement for further attacking gusto from the hosts. Though the moments were unfortunately few and far between, when the Blues decided to cruise through the gears, it was done to a devastating degree of efficiency.

What came next was perhaps the best team goal of the season so far. Its beautiful simplicity was something a side with Chelsea's quality may expect as standard - and again it was Mata at the heart of it all. Switching the play from the left as the Blues broke forward, his raking cross-field ball found Drogba in the centre circle. Powering forward, the Ivorian carried the ball before feeding the diminutive Spaniard with a finely-weighted pass. Mata did the necessary; effortlessly crossing for Ramires to maraud forward and convert from close range to seal the victory.

The Brazilian's fifth Chelsea goal had been delivered on his half-century of appearances for the club, but the first of two sour notes came in the 64th minute when he limped off, apparently injured in converting his third of the season in a challenge with Leighton Baines. The second was the noticeable lack of a clean sheet once again - something that would be more concerning if points were being dropped.

Vellios' consolation strike just evaded the reach of Cech and snook into the bottom corner with nine minutes remaining, but even for a team boasting an impressive unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge it was too late to even consider going for broke. The damage had already been done and Everton were a beaten side - and the deficit might have been greater had Lampard's late strike been directed anywhere other than straight down Tim Howard's throat.

A different performance from the barn-storming showing at the Reebok in Chelsea's last league outing, a more conservative offering from Villas-Boas' men - presumably in light of Wednesday's Champions League clash with Belgian team Genk, followed by Sunday's West London derby with QPR - had still brought about a richly deserved victory that ensures this Chelsea side will now be taken as serious contenders for the title.

Despite losing at Old Trafford, the beauty of playing that particular fixture so early in the season means that its implications can be negated almost instantly - and the Blues have already clawed back most of the five-point gap United opened up with that 3-1 triumph last month. With a Manchester derby fast-approaching, all permutations and combinations point in a beneficial direction for the Blues - providing they win at Loftus Road, of course!

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry ©, Cole; Ramires (Malouda 64), Mikel (Romeu 76), Lampard; Sturridge, Drogba, Mata (Anelka 76)

Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka ©, Distin, Baines; Coleman (Drenthe 60), Rodwell, Fellaini, Osman; Cahill (Neville 71); Saha (Vellios 80)

The TalkChelsea.net MAN OF THE MATCH award goes to Chelsea's number 10: JUAN MATA

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Mata has proved to be handy in breaking down defensive and "park the bus" type of teams... exactly what we were thinking about before we signed him and exactly why we were struggling before to move the parked buses.

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good report but you don't mention Rodwell ,,,I was told or read somewhere he should replace Lampard in the England side and Chelsea are

wanting to sign him ...Hoped you might have seen cos I saw nothing of him.

Was he playing?

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