Recovered Costa crushes Everton
It's still early days in the 2014-15 Premier League campaign, but the chances are, that come May 24th when everything is done and dusted, the nine-goal feast served up by Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on Saturday evening will rank as one of the games of the season.
If the Blues are crowned champions of England on that day, it will be because they were worthy of winning the title. Against the Toffees they displayed the essential quality that was lacking last season: putting the ball in the back of the net -- again and again and again. Six times in fact. So much so that it didn't matter how many times Everton scored because Chelsea were always going to score more.
The build-up to the game had concerned itself with two men: Diego Costa and Fernando Torres. Several days ago, hysterical media headlines proclaimed Costa was 'out for six weeks' following a training ground injury. Meanwhile Torres, the man Costa was brought in to replace, was loaned out to AC Milan on a two-year deal -- a move which effectively ended his Chelsea career.
Blues boss Jose Mourinho was suddenly caught short up front. Déjà vu. Same story, different season. Old warhorse Didier Drogba could lead the line, but at 36 years of age how long would he last? Another dip into the transfer market could solve the problem, but not for the trip to Goodison. Last season, Roberto Martinez's men had got the better of Chelsea, once more the writing was on the wall -- or was it?
Not only is Mourinho special -- he is a very clever man. With Martinez plotting to undo a Costa-less Chelsea, news broke that the Spain international had come through Friday's training session unscathed. The Special One had been non-committal in his pre-match presser and the eventual expectation was that Costa would be named among the substitutes. It was wrong. Costa started. And how!
With Martinez, Everton, and their supporters, still digesting the fact that Chelsea's 32 million pound striker was on the pitch -- and thinking perhaps they, along with the rest of the football world had been hoodwinked -- referee Jonathan Moss got the game underway.
It was a classic sucker-punch. Inside one minute, having made the greatest comeback since Lazarus, Costa put the Blues in front. Cesc Fabregas spilt the Everton defence open with a perfectly-weighted trademark pass, and Costa did what he does best giving Toffees goalkeeper Tim Howard his first task of the afternoon -- picking the ball out of the back of his own net!
Depending on his own point of view, Howard might consider himself lucky to have remained on the pitch to repeat the process a further five times. With just eight minutes on the clock, and Branislav Ivanovic having already doubled Chelsea's lead, the United States international keeper blatantly handled the ball outside his area when rushing out to prevent a through-ball from reaching Eden Hazard. This wasn't football, it was basketball! Yet the match officials saw nothing when at least a yellow card and a free-kick were in order.
With Kevin Mirallas having pulled a goal back for Everton on the stroke of half-time, the second period saw the home side press forward for an equalizer. Catching the Toffees on the break was now the name of the game, and Eden Hazard did just that by jinking into the penalty area and firing a low shot goal-ward which was deflected in by Seamus Coleman.
Howard was incensed. A rush of blood to the head. A head which he decided to put in the face of Cesar Azpilicueta as the Blues players celebrated. It was a disgrace, but referee Jonathan Moss chose meekly to wave a yellow card. It was no surprise, really, given the fact that in the first half an atrocious two-footed lunge by Gareth Barry on Willian had gone unpunished.
Steven Naismith responded by pulling another goal back for Everton which was the cue for a remarkable passage of play which saw a further three goals scored in as many minutes: 74 minutes, Nemanja Matic 4-2. 76 minutes, Samuel Eto'o, on his Toffees' debut, and against his old club, 4-3. 77 minutes, Ramires 5-3.
Nerves were jangling. Mourinho was in a state of constant agitation. What was going to happen next? Another goal for Chelsea, that's what. Step forward that man Costa. His first strike had been the third game in succession that he scored with his first shot. On Saturday night he rippled the net with his last shot as well.
A slip-shod back-heel from Everton substitute Muhamed Besic allowed John Obi Mikel to steal the ball and play in Costa who finished with aplomb. 'Boring, boring Chelsea,' was the ironic chant from jubilant travelling Blues supporters. Moss blew the final whistle. 6-3, phew!
Mourinho may lament the inept defending which gifted Everton three goals, but in the end it didn't matter. Last season he could only have dreamed of watching his side score six times in a game. On Saturday they did just that, and there was plenty to suggest it won't be the last time they put teams to the sword. Chelsea have all the hallmarks of Champions.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco