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Dec 4, 2010

Roman conquest threatens Blues hopes

As jubilant Russians revelled in the glory of landing the 2018 World Cup at FIFA HQ in Zurich on Thursday, the presence of one prominent if secretive benefactor sharing in the moment may have been an ominous sign for Chelsea FC.

Chelsea 1-1 Everton
• Ancelotti angered by Blues
• Premier League Gallery Photo Gallery

Roman Abramovich is not generally a figure who seeks out a camera and poses for staged photographs, yet the reclusive Chelsea owner broke with protocol when he took part in such ceremony as he was hugged and applauded by all concerned in Russia's successful bidding team.

Cynics of FIFA's methods for handing out their prized asset may well suspect that billionaire Abramovich was the key player in Russia's successful 2018 campaign, but that debate can be held elsewhere as the pre-match press room discussion ahead of Chelsea's game against Everton centred on where this week's extraordinary developments leave one of football's most prominent figures.

Cost-cutting and penny-pinching was hardly the order of the day when Abramovich abandoned his anonymity to acquire Chelsea in 2003, yet that has been the priority in the last year as high earners such as Michael Ballack, Ricardo Carvalho and Joe Cole were offloaded and an emphasis was placed on promoting youthful stars.

Many suspected his big spending days were already behind him and there must now be a danger that his interest in Chelsea will waver more than ever as he has Russia's expensive 2018 World Cup project to get his teeth into.

Abramovich was conspicuous by his absence at Stamford Bridge two days after the award and a glance at the Chelsea team-sheet for this game confirmed the youth policy he is promoting is not being embraced by under-pressure manager Carlo Ancelotti.

Ageing skipper John Terry was patched up and sent back into battle despite a niggling injury problem, while 30-somethings Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda did little to banish the notion that the sands of time are catching up with them after a month that saw Chelsea defeats against Liverpool, Sunderland and Birmingham.

Looking edgy, uninspired and lacking in belief, Chelsea were relieved to take a lead through Drogba's 42nd-minute penalty, awarded when Tim Howard hauled down Nicolas Anelka in the box after a weak Phil Neville back pass.

Chelsea may have been ahead, but the free-flowing, attractive football Abramovich has long been craving at Chelsea was nowhere to be seen and Everton dominated the second half before snatching a deserved equaliser from the much-maligned Jermaine Beckford four minutes from time.

In truth, Chelsea ran out of gas in the final stages as Everton threw bodies forward in search of a winner, with the seven minutes of extra time at the end of the game offering the visitors a better chance to win than that of the deflated home team.

"We were not able to play our football in the second half and ended up losing our way," a somewhat dishevelled-looking Ancelotti admitted. "It is difficult to explain why we started playing long-ball football after the break, but we have to understand why this has happened. We have a style of play and have to stick to that. Long-ball football is not what we are good at.

"The reality is we didn't play well and I do not want to talk about the decisions of the referee or anything else. We have to make sure we are better because this performance was not good enough."

Naturally, Everton boss David Moyes was far more upbeat than his opposite number, as he suggested his side were worthy of all three points. "I'm a little bit disappointed we didn't get the win, but picking up a draw at Stamford Bridge is never a bad result," he said. "We clung on a bit in the first half, but I don't think anyone can deny we deserved something from this game.

"Our performance against West Brom last week was dreadful and I demanded a response from the players, which is what I got against a strong Chelsea team. We have to produce this week after week now if we are going to climb the table."

Loud boos greeted the final whistle at Stamford Bridge to confirm that the natives are getting restless as Chelsea continue to struggle and, while any team can be excused for a dip in form, it is hard to forgive highly-paid players who give the impression that they are giving less than 100% to the cause. The woeful body language of Drogba and Anelka, in particular, did little to lift the spirits of the home supporters.

It is hard to know if the heroes of Chelsea's glorious recent past have fallen out of love with manager Ancelotti or whether they have reached a point where their effectiveness at the very highest level is beginning to wane, yet something is out of place within this team.

If the latter is true, the Blues squad need Abramovich's long lost chequebook to re-emerge from the frozen Siberia, but there is little evidence to suggest the one-time saviour of this club is ready to step into the breach once again.

With Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal next on Chelsea's fixture list, the supporters who were jeering at the end of this game have every right to be concerned for a variety of reasons.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Leighton Baines. Baines and Seamus Coleman were constant threats down the flanks for Everton and either could have taken the plaudits as the star of this match.

REFEREE LENIENCY: Lee Probert was in generous mood at Stamford Bridge as he held back from sending off Florent Malouda and Tim Howard when some of his colleagues would have opted to show red cards.

CECH SCARE: A nasty incident interrupted the second-half action as Chelsea keeper Petr Cech suffered a cut eyebrow after a challenge from Tim Cahill. Memories of Cech's harrowing clash with Stephen Hunt back in 2006 came flooding back, but the big 'keeper dusted himself down to continue on this occasion.

ABSENT ABRAMOVICH: Press room enquires over the potential attendance of Chelsea owner/Russia 2018 sponsor Roman Abramovich were batted away by officials on the grounds of security. In the end, it seemed he opted to skip this game as he was otherwise engaged, unless he was here undercover.

EVERTON VERDICT: The energy and drive shown by David Moyes' team served to highlight the diluted effort levels displayed by Chelsea. The Toffees fully deserved the point they collected.

CHELSEA VERDICT: Maybe, just maybe, this battle scarred Chelsea team is running out of gas at last and if that is the case, Mr Abramovich's renewed financial backing will soon be required. Time will tell if it will be forthcoming.

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