Chelsea 2-1 Everton
Chelsea avoided a possible play-off and secured third place thanks to a Fernando Torres winner to send Rafael Benitez out on a high.
Juan Mata had given Chelsea the lead in the seventh minute, but Naismith levelled seven minutes later. With the score remaining 1-1 until the 75th minute, one eye was on the Arsenal game, but Chelsea were left to thank Torres’ short-range bullet to preserve May’s unbeaten record.
In truth, the game was near enough a dead-rubber. Everton has secured 6th place whilst Chelsea, in 3rd or 4th, had guaranteed a Champions League berth for next season. But you would have been forgiven for thinking this would have had the intensity of a training ground match. Far from it.
Everton had the desire to make sure David Moyes signed out with a victory, and, as bizarre as it may seem 47 matches later, it seemed Chelsea had some motives to part company with Benitez with three points also. The growing respect for the Spaniard, as so often the case, comes as he is about to leave, but not without a Europa League to his CV.
And though there was little to play for, both teams respected the Premier League until the end. Chelsea handed a first Premier League start to Nathan Ake, whilst Andreas Christiensen was involved with the first-team for the first time, being on the bench. Despite the youth, there was still experimental force. Ba and Torres were starting, albeit not as a partnership with the Spaniard as the right-winger.
And on the back of that Amsterdam win mid-week, there was a real jovial atmosphere around Stamford Bridge, which was reciprocated on the field of play. Demba Ba nearly broke the deadlock three minutes in but Distin stood his ground.
The warning signs were there and Chelsea did make them pay moments later. Ba’s shot this time was saved by Howard, but Mata was on hand to score his 20th of the season.
Steven Naismith had other ideas just as Chelsea fans were hoping for a comfortable win, capitalising on a David Luiz mistake and firing past Cech, as the game started in terrific fashion.
The tempo did not cease: Everton his the post twice in an end-to-end match, whilst Torres had opportunities. Ake was holding firm, just about, in the holding midfield role, whilst his defensive partner continued to show his capabilities on the back of that one-year contract extension, nearly doubling the host’s lead on the stroke of half-time after the game’s best passage of play.
Gary Cahill’s left-foot drive was well stopped by Howard’s two hands whilst Ba had all the time in the world to score, but found Distin in his way.
So too did Oscar become fearful of the menacing Everton central defender. One on one with the Frenchman, the Brazilian opted for the long-range daisy-cutter, rather than meeting Distin man-for-man. It was a lethargic effort but a tiring season, and no doubt the sheer size of Distin on Oscar dissuaded the Brazilian from trying to race the 35-year-old.
Jelavic had a glorious opportunity to give Everton the lead but his tame left-foot try was smothered by Cech, whilst Ivanovic could not work wonders with his right foot as he did with his head on Wednesday. The Serbian had plenty of space on the penalty spot to turn and shoot, but skied it high and wide.
Torres showed his how to score, however, just two minutes later. Ba had, by now, been substituted, and so the Spaniard took up the more advanced centre forward role. Ake’s slow build-up play eventually came to Moses’, who headed down for Torres to half-volley home past Howard’s near post: 2-1.
It was the former Liverpool striker’s first goal in the Premier League for over 19 and a half hours, time spanning back to the last calendar year, but it was the crucial winner as Chelsea end another turbulent season with joy.