Chelsea secure 3rd place with victory against Everton

Mike Hewitt

And so it ends. Not with a whimper, but with a lengthy, serendipitous unbeaten streak that saw Chelsea secure third place in the Premier League and win the Europa League. Neither is an achievement worth celebrating -- both denote failure, to a certain extent -- but the way Chelsea battled out their slump was admirable. Ultimately, this season will be remembered for the sole trophy won rather than the disappointments that led to it, and thanks to finishing strongly we don't have to worry about a Liverpool-style fall out of the top four.

This game didn't matter too much despite the worries about a possible playoff against Arsenal and the risk of finishing fourth, rather than third. It was arguably more important for Everton, who would have been hoping to see off long-term manager David Moyes with a win. They failed, thanks to goals from Juan Mata and Fernando Torres, but the dozy way in which the Blues performed for much of the match meant that the Toffees came much closer to three points than anyone would have wanted.

Chelsea did start well and should probably have gone ahead early when Phil Jagielka inexplicably left Marouane Fellaini's pass for Demba Ba, but the striker lost his footing and skied his shot well over the crossbar. In the seventh minute, however, Ba managed to get a shot on goal. It wasn't an impressive one and should have been dealt with by Tim Howard, but the USA international batted the ball straight to Juan Mata, who slotted into the empty net.

If you were expecting the Blues to consolidate their lead, you haven't been paying much attention to the team this year. Everton pushed forward, sauntering through the midfield and exploiting Fernando Torres' presence on the left. Ashley Cole quickly found himself overwhelmed. Meanwhile, David Luiz wasn't faring much better against the physical presence of Victor Anichebe, and Steven Naismith was lurking about and looking dangerous.

Naismith had already wasted a chance by the time the equaliser arrived in the 14th minute. David Luiz came out to tackle him, but the ball popped free to Anichebe. With David Luiz suddenly out of position and unable to recover, it fell upon Gary Cahill to stop both Anichebe and Naismith. It didn't work, and the latter beat Petr Cech with a cool finish.

The goal failed to wake Chelsea up. The Toffees, in fact, very nearly took the lead when the midfield rather characteristically failed to close Darron Gibson down, allowing him to send in a long-range effort that hit the post and then Cech's head -- the Blues were lucky to escape that one. Then Kevin Mirallas gave us a break by mishitting a shot when he looked certain to convert a far-post cross.

Fortunately, the halftime talk seemed to have done its job and the Blues soared after the interval. Everton were pinned back and barely got a sniff of the ball, only holding on thanks to some last-ditch blocks and some excellent stops from Tim Howard. By this point news broke of Laurent Koscielny's goal at St. James' Park, which threw the third place picture wide open once again. Chelsea needed a goal to ensure that they weren't relying on Newcastle's good graces.

At this point Rafa Benitez made a sensible change, withdrawing the ineffectual Ba for Victor Moses and pushing Fernando Torres into the vacated centre forward spot. That move paid dividends ten minutes later. Oscar was given time and space to cross, nobody got near Moses, and the substitute, rather than trying to head past Howard, made the superb decision to knock the ball down for Torres. The striker, well into the 19th hour of his Premier League goal drought, smashed home with the outside of his right boot.

That was all it took to secure the three points, mostly thanks to some comical misses by Nikica Jelavic in front of Cech's net. On another day, he might have had a hattrick, but instead he was shooting yards wide when presented with open goals or falling over in a fairly accurate impression of Demba Ba.

The Blues coasted after Torres' goal, and would have probably been punished by a better side. Without Anichebe (who had been withdrawn for Jelavic in what I can only assume was an attempt at comedy on Moyes' part), however, Everton looked toothless, and never truly threatened to find their second.

Just like that, it was job done. The season was over. Chelsea finished third, earning eleven points more than last season. They picked up a trophy along the way, and now we can all move forward after an up-and-down season.

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