Playing Everton is no fun at all. They're a team that Chelsea should be beating with some regularity, almost always occupying the tier just below our level, and yet it feels like getting three points off them is almost impossible. The 2-0 loss at Goodison Park might have been the worst performance of last season, and the Blues had beaten David Moyes' side just once in the past eight contests. That's not so good.
And so, despite the absence of Marouane Fellaini, Darron Gibson and Kevin Miralles, Sunday's match had a threatening sort of aura about it. This was a team with Thomas Hitzlsperger and Leon Osman starting in central midfield and Phil Jagielka at right back, but still, there was that lingering fear that everything would go horribly wrong.
At first, said fear seemed to be entirely prophetic. If the Toffees sprang out of the blocks, Chelsea found their feet glued firmly to the floor, and could only watch in bemusement as the hosts wove intricate patterns around the pitch, their machinations only infrequently broken up by a lumped clearance forward from a white shirt that predictably went straight back to the opposition.
Everton, of course, took the lead early in their spell of utter dominance. Eden Hazard had given the ball away in the middle third, and Ashley Cole took a temporary leave of absence from the whole 'defending' business. The hosts broke down their right and aimed a cross at Victor Anichebe -- marked by Cesar Azpilicueta -- at the far post. The right back was overmatched, and Anichebe sent a thumping header off the woodwork, leaving Steven Pienaar to stick in the rebound. Barely ninety seconds had elapsed.
It nearly got much worse. Petr Cech's goal was under siege and his post was rattled again by a superb free kick from Nikica Jelavic which left the goalkeeper rooted to the spot and attempting to will the ball to safety using Jedi mind tricks. Later he saved the day in more conventional style when turning Osman's fine effort behind for a corner kick. Chelsea, meanwhile, had offered essentially nothing in the attack, and were barely able to hold onto the ball even in midfield.
It was ugly. Fortunately, it didn't last. A neat run from Ramires marked the end of Everton's dominance, and although it didn't lead directly to a goal -- Juan Mata's effort was well-saved by Tim Howard -- the Blues no longer looked like they were about to suffer a monumental defeat. In fact, they were suddenly starting to provide some serious cut and thrust in the attack.
Mata provided the next opportunity, dancing his way into the area and setting up Azpilicueta for an incisive low cross which beat Howard but managed to evade both Hazard and Cole for an Everton escape. But they couldn't avoid conceding for long. Fernando Torres, hitherto anonymous, chased down the ball after a corner kick and then supplied Ramires for a quick cross. To say that the midfielder's game had to that point been poor would be an understatement, but he made up for it with a superb delivery that met rather productively with Frank Lampard's noggin in the six-yard box.
And so the first half finished 1-1 despite Chelsea being comprehensively outplayed in virtually every facet of the game. Everton had their chances but failed to take them, and momentum was now very much in the Blues' favour. Although the hosts managed to hit the woodwork again -- Jelavic from a Leighton Baines cross this time -- they never again looked as threatening as they did before the break. That was good, because Ross Turnbull had come on for Cech, who was withdrawn as a precautionary measure with a leg injury.
Chelsea, meanwhile, were causing problems. Torres should have scored after a lovely clipped pass from David Luiz, and then the striker contrived to stray offside after a brilliant flicked pass from Hazard opened up space for him to shoot at close range (he didn't score anyway). It wasn't all poor from the centre forward, who sounds like he'll have competition from Demba Ba fairly soon, at least: He also forced Howard into one genuinely good stop with a thumping effort that the Everton stopper was forced to push out for a corner.
It was Lampard who made the breakthrough, although the second Chelsea goal was mostly down to Mata and Hazard. The former spotted his teammate in space at the far post, and Hazard responded by nodding the ball back across the face of the goal for Mata to hit. His shot was blocked, but Lampard was lurking in space and pounced on the rebound, poking the ball into the roof of the net to make it 2-1.
And that, more or less, would be that. There were some nervy moments, mostly to do with David Luiz being rather overly enthusiastic with his tackling despite already being on a yellow card, and it was pretty annoying that Chelsea managed to turn a three-on-one break with Oscar, Victor Moses and Torres against Sylvain Distin into a corner (no prizes for guessing who was tackled there), but ultimately the Blues would see the match out in reasonably comfortable fashion.
It was Everton's first home loss of the season, and Rafa Benitez's first real test as Chelsea manager. Despite the rough start, it ended up going very well indeed.