David Moyes’ side have not lost to Chelsea in their last five league games, drawing four and winning one (at Goodison Park in February 2010). But when cup competitions are included, it is the London Blues who hold the upper hand, winning as they did the most important clash between the sides – the FA Cup final – in May 2009. Chelsea also blasted Everton out of the League Cup in January 2008, winning a two-legged semi-final 3-1 on aggregate. A rare ray of cup light came in January 2006 when the teams drew 1-1 in the FA Cup fourth round at Goodison, but the dark clouds soon arrived when the tie moved to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea strolled to a 4-1 victory.
The discrepancy between the sides’ league and cup meetings is peculiar and difficult to explain. Granted, looking back five years to the 2006 fixture reveals much altered line-ups for both teams – of the respective squads of 16 from the first game there are five Everton players remaining and three Chelsea – and drawing many relevant conclusions today from a match half a decade ago is spurious at best. But the recent league and one-off games between the teams can provide a clue to why cup results differ so wildly from those of league action, and it is a symptom of the difference between, and different approaches to, league and cup competition.
Chelsea’s 4-1 replay victory in 2006, their pair of Carling Cup victories in 2008 and the FA Cup triumph in 2009 all speak of the main distinction between league and cup fixtures. In the league, a draw is both possible and acceptable, and indeed four of the last five Premier League games between Everton and Chelsea have been drawn, a sequence of results far more positive for Everton than Chelsea. But in the cup, where a drawn game means not a hard-fought point but an energy-sapping replay, the onus is on both sides to attack, at least attack sufficiently to win the game. And that is where Everton fall down. When they are forced by the nature of a cup game to commit more resources forward, Chelsea simply pick them off. Even in the FA Cup final, where Everton took the lead, resting on a one goal advantage was not an option and Chelsea simply overwhelmed their weakened hosts.
For Everton to progress on Saturday they have to strike the balance between attack and defence. Too much of the former and Chelsea will romp to victory; too much of the latter and the outcome will likely be a draw, a return to London, and a Chelsea romp nevertheless. It is a fine line, but one Moyes and his erratic side must deftly walk to reach the next round of the FA Cup.