You wait all season for a substantial home performance, and then two come along in quick succession. Everton followed up their home victory over Manchester City with a performance arguably superior even to that, a 2-0 triumph over Chelsea. David Moyes’ side, inspired by Steven Pienaar and Denis Stracqualursi, were comfortable winners against Andre Villas-Boas’ beleaguered outfit.
The win, only Everton’s fifth in the Premier League at Goodison Park, was fully deserved, and from the moment the teams were announced, when only the returning Pienaar was greeted with a roar louder than emerging favourite Stracqualursi, the mood around the old ground was buoyant as it has rarely been this season. And when both players were substituted after finding the net – Pienaar replaced by Royston Drenthe in the 74th minute, Stracqualursi in the 88th by Shane Duffy – the reception was somehow louder than pre-kick-off. But while Pienaar and Stracqualursi received much of the plaudits for their goals and all-round efforts they were just two superb showings on an afternoon when each player entered a performance to rank amongst their best of the season.
Everton may have been helped by Chelsea’s malaise – and certainly the London Blues were thoroughly disorganised in defence, which Everton routinely profited from – but while much of Chelsea’s woe was self-inflicted, the Toffees were just as responsible. Marouane Fellaini was dominant in midfield, making countless interceptions, and with Pienaar forever capable of either taking on the Chelsea right-back or darting inside and running at the visitors’ shaky defence Everton always had an outlet on the counter-attack. And when Everton were building an attack in a more considered manner, it was often diverted through Pienaar and his partner-in-crime, left-back Leighton Baines. Such is the depth of the pairs’ understanding you would not know from watching them on Saturday they had barely played together in a year.
If it was not Pienaar leading the charge it was usually Stracqualursi. The Argentine’s turnaround from laughing stock to cherished talisman appears to be complete – on his arrival on Merseyside Stracqualursi looked out of his depth and desperately lacking ability. In recent games, however, the 24-year-old has been every inch the Premier League striker – shrugging off defenders with ease, intelligently playing in teammates and scoring a couple of goals to boot, all crowned with sheer hard work to a degree rarely seen on a football pitch. It may be a little premature to wonder about a permanent transfer but if Stracqualursi can enter a few more performances of this calibre he will absolutely be welcome at Goodison on a full-time basis.
And if Everton can match this level a couple more times – with Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal to visit in the next two home matches – European football may be on the agenda again. Before that Blackpool are the opponents in the FA Cup. A repeat of the performance against Chelsea will extend Everton’s cup run into the quarter-finals and possibly all the way to Wembley.
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