I don't think anyone dropped acid in my tea this morning. I'm pretty sure that the game I just watched actually happened, that it wasn't some deranged dark fantasy dragged up by my subconscious to torment/elate me on a random Saturday afternoon. If I'm wrong, this match report's going to look very weird to the rest of you. But if I'm not, I will now undertake the considerable endeavour of summarising the maddest game we've been involved in in years. Chelsea -- Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, no less -- beat Everton 6-3 at Goodison Park. John Obi Mikel assisted a goal. With a backheel. I'm sure you can understand my suspicion.
For a game won by three goals and in which Chelsea had a lead from inside the first minute, this one was bizarrely stressful. Conceding three and being bizarrely wobbly for most of the match will do that, of course, and 45 minutes after full time I'm still feeling the urge to scream 'slow it down!' and wave my hands like a maniac. But anyway. Time to match report. After that I will seek psychological assistance.
After a slow start against Leicester, being quick off the mark was of vital importance and the Blues didn't disappoint here. Thirty seconds in, Cesc Fabregas set Diego Costa free with a through ball, the striker's diagonal run keeping him onside (it was close) and the finish giving Chelsea a 1-0 lead.
Everton didn't had time to regroup before Branislav Ivanovic doubled the lead. The right back, who's been something of an attacking juggernaut so far this season, found himself behind the defensive line, probably because he was offside. But the linesman didn't notice Phil Jagielka stepping up, leaving Ivanovic free to tuck a shot beyond Tim Howard.
So far so good. But the dodgy officiating that had been demonstrated on the second goal turned into something of a plague, and the most egregious example came 11 minutes in, when Fabregas went searching for an Eden Hazard run with a slide-rule pass and Tim Howard rushed out to pick the ball up outside the penalty area. Which was obviously a foul and a red card. But in bizarro-land it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and Jonathan Moss waved play on despite Hazard's furious protests.
At the other end, Everton had the ball in the back of the net after Sylvain Distin tucked away a Romelu Lukaku head that had smashed off the crossbar, but that effort was ruled out (correctly) for offside, much to the hosts' annoyance. Unfortunately, we couldn't use the same linesman on both sides of the pitch, because there were plenty of weird calls still to come. Costa was the subject of one of them, getting flagged incorrectly when one-on-one with Howard (his shot hit the post anyway), and there'd be more to come in the second half.
Meanwhile the Toffees, still with 11 men on the pitch thanks to the official's largesse, worked their way back into the match, slowly pegging Chelsea back and causing severe problems in the midfield. Fabregas was pushed too high up the pitch to effectively control the tempo, and neither Ramires nor Nemanja Matic were keeping possession effectively. The Blues were inviting a goal, and one duly came just before the interval, when Seamus Coleman's cross was powered past Courtois by the unmarked Kevin Mirallas.
And if we thought the first half was dramatic ... well, we hadn't seen anything yet, as evidenced by the final score. The match was tense, with Everton looking like the better side and Chelsea looking to take their chances. In the 53rd minute, Costa wasted a chance to score what at that point looked like it could have been a vital insurance goal, shooting too close to Howard after being played in once again by Fabregas. As it turned out, that incident would barely register by the end of the game.
When two sides combine for five goals in eleven minutes it's difficult to understand what exactly has happened. The attack, of course, was on its game. Consider Hazard demolishing James McCarthy before advancing on goal and forcing Coleman to turn the ball into his own net. Consider Matic, striding up from midfield, smashing a deflected effort into the bottom corner. Consider Ramires coming up with a peach of a goal after a one-two with the Serbian left him open at the near post. Chelsea's forward play was little short of astonishing in during that spell.
But their defensive game was non-existent. Coleman's own goal was immediately cancelled out by Steven Naismith, who'd been tormenting the midfield all night by dropping back off the centre backs and occupying the pocket of space behind the pivot, and they (and Ivanovic) lost him again on Aidan McGeady's diagonal pass. The riposte to Matic's strike was a Samuel Eto'o header from a bizarrely-awarded free kick, the set piece goal sending Mourinho into conniptions on the touchline. For every step forward, there was a step back, and that made for incredibly stressful viewing.
Fortunately for Chelsea, Thibaut Courtois, who was by this point fairly sick of conceding goals, decided to step up and do something about it, and when Mirallas' quite brilliant flick looked like it was going to do to Ramires goal what Naismith and Eto'o had done to the previous two, the Belgian flew off his line to tip his compatriot's shot onto the post.
That save broke the spell, although there was still weirdness to be had in the match. John Obi Mikel, who came on just before Everton made it 4-3 in an attempt to control a match that had found its way into the Horrible Forest of Hallucinagens, provided perhaps the most bizarre moment of all as the game died down, siezing upon a horrible error by the newly-introduced Mohamed Besic and taking out both Distin and Jagielka with a backheel to set up Costa for the ninth and final goal.
That strike was just the cherry on top of Costa's match, which included a brace, a missed one-on-one and two weird incidents involving Seamus Coleman, the first from a throw-in and the second coming after the own goal, for which the Everton left back was thoroughly mocked by the striker. Howard took umbrage at the taunting and rushed out to confront Costa, which probably could have resulted in more cards than just the booking the American ultimately received.
Mercifully, there was no more time for any craziness. After four minutes of stoppage time, Moss blew the whistle on what will ultimately go down as one of the strangest matches we've played this decade. It was by no means perfect -- the defence and midfield obviously need a lot of work. But if someone had told you we were going to take three points from Everton away and score six goals in the process, you'd have said, 'wait, what, that sounds completely insane. How do you know this? Are you a sorcerer? WHAT IS MY FUTURE?'
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- Jose Mourinho
- Cesc Fabregas
- Branislav Ivanovic
- John Obi Mikel
- Seamus Coleman