John Terry the hero as Chelsea fight back for 3-3 draw vs. Everton
LONDON -- Three points from a frantic, frenetic game at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea fought back from 2-0 and 3-2 down to earn a 3-3 draw deep in injury time on Saturday.
1. Fabregas inspires comeback, Terry finishes the job
John Terry proved to be the hero with his 98th-minute backheeled equaliser -- from an offside position -- but the man of the match was Cesc Fabregas, who inspired an unlikely Chelsea comeback with a superb 10-minute spell in the second half.
Guus Hiddink's decision to play Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel in the centre of midfield did little for Chelsea's passing tempo (they were both sluggish) but more surprisingly, it also allowed Everton space between the lines. Both Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku had unsuccessful attempts from just outside the area before Kevin Mirallas forced Thibaut Courtois into a fine save from a similar position.
Fabregas was pushed into the No. 10 position, as Hiddink wants to see him play the "final pass" more often, and he looked lively: playing a fine through-ball for Willian, who surged forward down the right before driving at goal, with Tim Howard making a fine save. It was Chelsea's only real chance before halftime.
Hiddink tried to change things after Chelsea trailed 1-0, introducing Oscar for Matic, with Fabregas moving deeper to pull the strings. This suddenly sparked Chelsea into life, with Fabregas inspiring Chelsea's best spell of the game.
The Spaniard still charged forward and provided the game's outstanding moment with Chelsea down 2-0. Meeting a low Cesar Azpilicueta cross from the left, he somehow managed to back heel the ball on the turn, sending it looping toward goal and forcing a very good save. That moment of individual brilliance got the home fans started singing for the first time and suddenly, Chelsea rallied.
From that deeper position, Fabregas' long-range passing ability got Chelsea back into it. His long ball over the top allowed Diego Costa to beat both Howard and Phil Jagielka to the ball before converting into an empty net. Pushing the momentum was clearly with Hiddink's men.
The rejuvenated Fabregas continued to attack in inside-left positions and grabbed an equaliser just two minutes later, picking up the ball 25 yards out, playing a one-two via Costa's backheel, turning inside in the box before his deflected shot beat Howard. Though Terry would take the plaudits for his dramatic late finish, Stamford Bridge was the loudest it has been all season thanks to Fabregas; the Spaniard's return to form was a very positive development.
2. Everton yet again let it slip
A failure to defend properly meant Everton dropped two points, but over the course of 90 minutes, they were the better side. Before halftime, they had promising attacks but struggled to create clear-cut chances, finding space between the lines but rarely playing dangerous, penetrative balls in behind. After halftime they improved significantly, particularly with their use of width; Leighton Baines, in particular, proved crucial.
For the opening goal after 50 minutes, Mirallas received the ball on the left and found Baines charging forward on the overlap, playing a pass at precisely the moment as the left-back broke past Chelsea's defensive line. Terry positioned himself correctly to cut out the ensuing cross but somehow managed to deflect the ball with his right foot, onto his left leg and over the line. It was a comedic own goal.
From there, Everton rallied. They nearly went up 2-0 immediately when Barkley was released in the inside-left channel and drove a left-footed shot against Courtois' near post. The second goal did arrive five minutes later and again from a Baines cross from the left -- this time after good work in the build-up from Barkley. The low cross wasn't particularly impressive but Mirallas did brilliantly control the ball, swivel and fire a superb shot past Courtois and into the corner of the net.
Everton's two-goal lead was hardly against the run of play but it would be undone as swiftly as it was built. Not doing the scrappy stuff at both ends has been Everton's problem for a long time under Roberto Martinez, which made it particularly surprising when they appeared to have won the game very late through substitute Ramiro Funes Mori, who turned Gerard Deulofeu's corner from close range before diving into the traveling supporters gathered behind the goal.
But things were back to normal with Chelsea's late, late equaliser through Terry. A backheeled winner on the half-volley is a remarkable way to score such a crucial goal but Everton fans will concentrate more upon the fact their players lost three consecutive headers in the build-up. Terry may have been offside, but the ball shouldn't have got through to him in the first place.
3. Stones, Lukaku not perfect
It took barely five minutes before Everton fans launched into their customary "money can't buy me Stones" chant, mocking Chelsea's attempts to sign the young centre-back last summer.
John Stones played in his usual style: composed and commanding in the backline and somewhat scaring his side's supporters with his determination to hold onto the ball in deep positions under pressure. Defensively, he coped well with Costa's physicality, and his positioning seems better when alongside Jagielka rather than the somewhat nervy Funes Mori.
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Stones made only one notable error, unnecessarily bringing down Costa on the halfway line as Chelsea played a long ball in behind. However, he has yet to develop into a truly great "penalty box defender" in the manner of a peak Terry, for example. He's best when his side are in control, playing high up the pitch and dominating. As Chelsea piled on the pressure, Stones wasn't particularly good at relieving it.
Meanwhile, former Chelsea forward Lukaku had a quiet game. His best opportunity was from 25 yards and therefore hardly a shocking miss, but he dragged his shot hopelessly wide of Courtois' goal. Having missed two fine opportunities in a 1-0 defeat here last year, he has yet to directly punish Chelsea for letting him go, although he remains the Premier League's joint top scorer.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.