Everton ended 2012 with only their third home defeat of the calendar year, a 2-1 reverse against Chelsea in a match that underscored the lack of depth to David Moyes’ squad, particularly when compared to some of the Toffees’ rivals for a Champions League place.
Moyes was without six players for the visit of Chelsea, each of whom could arguably command a role in Everton’s best XI. Captain Phil Neville, right-backs Seamus Coleman and Tony Hibbert, central midfielder Darron Gibson, winger Kevin Mirallas and midfielder-cum-forward Marouane Fellaini were all absent, giving Everton’s side a patched-up appearance and leaving the manager with precious few options in reserve.
Chelsea, on the other hand, were able to bring on summer signings Victor Moses and Oscar, who moved to Stamford Bridge for a combined fee approaching £30m. Arsenal, in their emphatic victory over Newcastle United on Saturday, were able to leave Olivier Giroud, a £13m summer purchase, on the bench for 74 minutes. Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, bought Gylfi Sigurdsson from under the noses of both Swansea City and Liverpool but the Icelander played mere minutes in the win over Sunderland.
With the fixtures arriving at a frantic pace and the weather not particularly conducive to a packed schedule, Everton’s mini selection crisis has occurred at the worst possible time. There will at least be some respite against Newcastle on Wednesday, when Fellaini returns from suspension, and Neville and Coleman were both borderline to play Chelsea so stand a chance of involvement against the Magpies. Gibson though will be out for a month.
But the Chelsea match showed how imperative a fit and available squad is to Everton’s ambitions this season, especially if reinforcements cannot be found in January. For the players who did play against the Londoners, the performance was by and large better than the result. Nikica Jelavic was desperately unlucky not to score, hitting the post with a free-kick and the bar with a glancing header, and spurning a chance in the dying minutes that, while difficult, was the sort he converted regularly between February and May.
The opening half-hour of the match was almost all Everton, the tempo of the home side keeping the Champions League holders on the back foot. But once Everton’s pressing ceased Chelsea came back into the game and, as the match worse on, the runners from midfield caused Everton’s creaky defence all manner of problems. Fernando Torres’ intelligent lay-offs found teammates as they poured forward and there was always an overlap as Everton pushed forward too.
It was a close game that, if Jelavic’s two woodwork-bound efforts had been centimetres more precise, could have gone in Everton’s favour. That the difference between the two sides, the paupers of Merseyside and the oil-money powered Chelsea, was so slim, speaks volumes about the showing of Everton’s bare bones side. It is unlikely to soothe the sting of the dropped points or the end of the unbeaten home record this season, though, but does serve as a reminder that the returning cavalry cannot come quick enough.
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