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Dec 12, 2009

Reality Cech for Chelsea

Genuine sporting giants benefit from an aura that intimidates those who dare to cross them and Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea appeared to be developing that gleaming sheen of invincibility a couple of weeks ago.

• Chelsea 3-3 Everton
• Premier League round-up
• Premier League Gallery

Scoring goals aplenty and looking solid at the back, the bookmakers were running scared of the blue machine whose progress towards the Premier League title seemed unstoppable after their hugely impressive 3-0 win at Arsenal last month.

Amid such a mood of optimism, Chelsea's Carling Cup exit at Blackburn was a surprise setback and their defeat at the hands of Manchester City last weekend was equally unexpected, yet this team of hardened professionals were unlikely to be rattled by glancing blows that barely wobbled their steady legs.

A Champions League draw with Apoel Nicosia in an unimportant tie on Tuesday mattered little, yet this latest setback against battling Everton may provide Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti with more concern than any of his slip-ups so far this season.

Doubts surrounding the ability of Petr Cech to deal with high balls into his box are long standing and on the evidence of this shambolic performance, the Czech Republic keeper is in danger of allowing his fragile confidence to slip once again.

Ever since his infamous clash with Reading's Stephen Hunt back in 2006, which resulted in Cech fracturing his skull, there has been a feeling that the big number one is unwilling to put his health on the line when dealing with balls into his box. Well, his edginess returned in abundance as he handed Everton a route into a game in which they were outclassed for long periods at Stamford Bridge.

The early signs of trouble were there for Chelsea as Louis Saha was given space to head on goal and his header ricocheted off the post and into the net via the back of a scrambling Cech. While the Everton striker could take some credit for the 12th minute opener, the keeper's sluggish reaction was the primary reason why the Blues fell behind.

What followed was a period of Chelsea power play that could and should have ended this game as a contest as the ever-impressive Didier Drogba fired a delicious equaliser into the top corner after he linked well with Frank Lampard after 18 minutes and then, with Everton creaking, Nicolas Anelka nonchalantly flicked home the Blues' second.

However, Cech was offering the opposition hope and Everton exposed the Chelsea weak link as a one-sided first half finished with an unlikely equaliser. This time Cech was let down by his defenders as they flapped when trying to clear a free-kick and then failed to deal with the follow up as Yakubu made it 2-2.

It was hardly a surprise to see Chelsea concede again as they appeared vulnerable every time Everton threw a free-kick into the box, with skipper John Terry and long-time defensive partner Ricardo Carvalho looking as if they had been shaken by the uncertainty emanating from the man behind them as they floundered in unfamiliar fashion.

Former England manager Graham Taylor suggested Ancelotti's team were defending too high up the pitch for set-pieces as he sipped on his half-time cup of team in the press room and their edginess showed no signs of ending as the second half progressed at a pace.

Few were shocked when Drogba fired Chelsea into a lead after 60 minutes and yet Cech's crumbling confidence continued to offer Everton hope of another equaliser. Their free-kick trick worked again as indecision between Cech and Drogba saw Louis Saha benefit from a touch of luck as the ball looped off his head and into the net.

Once more, Cech was at fault and even though he did his best to blame others as he screamed abuse in Drogba's direction, the Czech Republic stopper was the epicentre of the fault line that had become a Chelsea defensive nightmare.

After his poor performance in the defeat at Manchester City last weekend, Cech looked like a man shorn of self belief and we have seen such a slump from him just a few months before. I was here as Bolton so nearly snatched a draw after going 4-0 down in a game back in April, with Cech again the fly in Chelsea's ointment as Gary Megson's side launched high balls aplenty into the box late on.

Ancelotti will know it is a major issue that he needs to resolve if Chelsea are to challenge on all fronts, but he was keen to avoid any criticism of Cech as he searched for positives in his post-match press conference. "I feel we put in a good performance with excellent intensity for 90 minutes and the only problem is we did not win," he said.

"Okay, we made some defensive mistakes, but his can happen. We lost a game at Aston Villa a few weeks ago due to set-plays and worked hard to improve. Sometimes the positioning in the box was not good against the set-plays and we will work on that again now. I believe we can get it right."

Everton boss David Moyes was full of praise for his team's efforts and reserved special praise for his lead striker. "We came with a positive outlook and started this game ever so well," he said. "Chelsea have great attacking options and we rode our luck at times, but I felt we deserved a draw for the terrific effort we put in.

"They had some difficulty dealing with our delivery into the box and we stuck to our task well and to get back into the game after they went 3-2 ahead. We had a few people unavailable for this game and to get a result here was something special. Louis Saha was fantastic for us today and the rest of the boys backed him up so well."

Everton have every right to be delighted after earning their point, but the scars left on the reputation of Petr Cech and Chelsea may be the most significant inflicted to date in this season's Premier League title race.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Didier Drogba. We had a couple of examples of Drogba theatrics, but he seems to have curbed the annoying antics that ensured he was long vilified. His two goals were brilliantly taken.

FACE IN THE CROWD: The legendary actor and director Richard Attenborough was shivering in the crowd watching his beloved Chelsea.

CHELSEA VERDICT: Ancelotti's men gave Everton far too much encouragement with their defensive frailties and the Italian needs to ensure keeper Cech can rediscover his composure under high balls.

EVERTON VERDICT: The Toffees may still find themselves in the wrong half of the table, but David Moyes' men seem to be getting back to what they do best. They never gave up in this game and their reward was a valuable point.

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