Sport Soccer

Friday 23 February 2018

Ancelotti left stumped by Blues' deep-rooted crisis of confidence

There was a flat atmosphere before yesterday's game at Stamford Bridge, but by the end it had turned mutinous. A late Everton equaliser from Jermaine Beckford denied Chelsea the victory that would have put them top of the table. Instead, they have one win in six Premier League matches and the search for the source of their problems will go on.

"I am disappointed and angry," Carlo Ancelotti said afterwards. "The first half, there was good spirit but the second half was totally different. We lost our idea to play good football and we just played long ball. I don't understand why we have changed. The players were afraid."

Ancelotti admits he is worried but insists that the problems are on the pitch and have nothing to do with the upheaval among his coaching staff.

Everton picked at their sores all afternoon until the late and deserved equaliser. Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar were outstanding down the left, with Marouane Fellaini and Jack Rodwell more solid in midfield than Chelsea.

Nothing looks solid at Chelsea at the moment. They have entered winter unsure and uncertain without a win in the league since John Terry played his last game against Fulham a month ago.

Chelsea's fall has been remarkable: a home trouncing by Sunderland and only one point from games at Birmingham and Newcastle suggested that the problems went further than the loss of Ray Wilkins and the future departure of Frank Arnesen.

Abramovich seems to want to cause disruption at a club where there had been some temporary stability since Carlo Ancelotti arrived. Ancelotti consulted with Paul Clement again on the sideline yesterday with Mike Emenelo, well, sidelined. These power struggles never end well for managers at Chelsea.

Abramovich craves change and he may get it again, but yesterday Chelsea wanted a return to their early season performances and instead they were disjointed. Terry was back, his nerve problem fixed, it was said, so soon after it was supposed to be a long-running mystery. Michael Essien returned from his suspension as well.

Neither restored Chelsea's confidence, although Terry struck the crossbar in the first half, and Everton offered a swift reminder of how Sunderland had ripped them apart by going on the attack from the kick-off. Petr Cech did well to save from Louis Saha. Everton have more problems than Chelsea. After last week's home defeat by West Brom, questions were being asked about manager David Moyes as his side slipped dangerously close to the bottom three.

"The players responded really well as I think these players always do. It was tough, we had to hang in for some periods," Moyes said afterwards.

Everton were full of adventure, with Seamus Coleman determined to run at the Chelsea defence, although there were times when he did too much. Phil Neville usually provides reassurance behind him, but not yesterday. He got into a scrap with Florent Malouda that could have seen one or both of them sent off, then was booked for a foul on Didier Drogba, but it got worse.

Picking the ball up in his right-back position, Neville casually knocked it back to Tim Howard, unaware, until he looked up and put his head in his hands, that Nicolas Anelka was hovering. Neville's pass was too short, Anelka got to it, knocked it past Howard and then ran into the 'keeper. It was a penalty but the referee had grounds for not sending off Howard and didn't. Drogba drove home the penalty.

Chelsea had a half-time lead but their nervousness was demonstrated in a second half that Everton dominated. Rodwell headed against the post after a superb Baines cross and Coleman and Phil Jagielka also went close with headers. Even with Essien back, Chelsea were missing leadership in midfield and Everton continued to press forward.

Pienaar put another intelligent pass behind the Chelsea defence, which Tim Cahill chased. Cech came out and although Cahill appeared to pull out of the challenge, he caught Cech, much to Terry's fury. Cech's history is not far from anyone's thoughts at Stamford Bridge and as he punched the ground in pain, Terry confronted Cahill.

"If he hadn't gone for that, I would have wrung his neck," Moyes said in defence of his player, and the referee also viewed it as accidental. Chelsea felt they had a penalty when Coleman took the feet from under Ashley Cole at the far post, but play went on.

At that stage, they seemed to be hanging on for three points, but Everton kept going. Unsurprisingly it was Baines again who crossed and Chelsea couldn't deal with it. Cahill won one header and knocked the ball across goal. Substitute Beckford was hovering and nodded in for the equaliser. The Everton team ran to celebrate with Cahill, who had once again demonstrated his importance to his side.

Chelsea were stunned and they couldn't rouse themselves. Instead it was Everton who pressed for the winner in the seven minutes of injury-time, with Fellaini going close at the end. Spurs, Manchester United and Arsenal are next. "The next game against Tottenham is a fantastic opportunity for us," Ancelotti said afterwards. That's one way of looking at it.

Sunday Independent

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