A Game of Two Halves

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Over the past week we have been treated to some intriguing encounters and plenty of goals in the English Premier League. Arsenal and Liverpool gave us a repeat of the rollercoaster entertainment that Manchester United and Newcastle presented the previous night but it was the encounter in West London between Chelsea and Everton which brought us the best and worst of the Week.

The match brought two halves totally unrecognizable from each other. The first half was cagy and tight with both teams looking desperate to make the game a reflection of their dire league forms. Guus Hiddink’s decision to start two defensive midfielders was an obvious attempt to stifle Everton’s flair which helped them put three past the Chelsea in the reverse tie. For 45 minutes this tactic worked but at the detriment of whatever attacking impetus Chelsea have left in them. On the occasions when Barkley and Mirallas got past the big and unconvincing defensive midfield duo they were denied by poor choices in the final third and on one occasion a brilliant save by Courtois. Chances were a rarity and the half time whistle was a welcome relief from the dour affair.

Up came the second half and you’ll be forgiving for thinking it was an entirely different game. Chelsea started the half showing much more intent and it took just five minutes for a Chelsea player to break the deadlock, albeit in the wrong end as John Terry’s miscued clearance went past Courtois to give Everton the lead against the run of play. The goal seemed to ginger the Mersysiders and they carved out a more clear cut chances within minutes. Barkley was denied by the upright but Mirallas perfectly executed turn and volley deserved nothing less than to double the lead and it achieved just that. 2-0 down and looking out of sorts, Chelsea looked destined for their tenth defeat of the season. Fortunately for their fans, the drama had just begun.

Drama king Diego Costa led the charge as Chelsea brought out their inner hulk and surged forward like a beast awoken. The introduction of Oscar for Matic brought fluidity to their attack and allowed Fabregas control things from a deeper position. This tactical change soon yielded result when Costa latched on to a probing pass from the Spanish midfielder and took advantage of a mix-up to pull one back. At that point it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before scores were leveled and the Spanish midfield maestro duly stepped up once again to ensure that after combining, once again, with Costa.

A great comeback it was, Chelsea were once again playing like champions and the fans responded by creating an intimidating atmosphere in Stamford Bridge. Everton was there for the taking and the 24 minutes left on the clock was enough time to put them to the sword. Alas, it wasn’t an evening for expectations to be met and the only sword visible was that which pierced through Chelsea hearts when Funes Mori applied a befitting finish to a sumptuous cross from Deulofeu right at the end of regulation time. 3-2 with only added time to play, Chelsea had no time to reflect on their latest misfortune and in the end there was nothing unfortunate about the events that followed. Everton managed to survive a barrage of aerial bombardment and felt they had done enough when the added seven minutes elapsed but the center referee let the play go on and then came the final piece of drama in a half that offered plenty of it. A hopeful ball into the box was met by Oscar who cushioned it into the path of an offside John Terry. The finish that followed was one you’ll expect from Zidane. Everything about the goal was dramatic, from its timing to fact that Terry was offside, to his exquisite back heel, to his celebration with the fans, and to the fact that it presented us the 3rd 3-3 draw of the week. 

That boring first half indeed felt like a very long time ago and on the whole it was a perfect illustration of a game of two halves. The draw leaves both teams in touching distance of the relegation battle and seriously undermines Chelsea’s perceived revival post Mourinho.

Elsewhere in the EPL, Week 22 ended with Manchester City closing the gap on both leaders, Arsenal and Leicester City, who could only manage draws. It also saw Newcastle continue their revival with a victory over West Ham but fail to climb out of the relegation zone due to Swansea’s surprising victory over a declining Watford side. Van Gaal also managed to keep his job for at least another week by achieving a feat that would normally have earned him cult hero status (completing the double over their greatest rivals, Liverpool).

It has been an exciting and unpredictable season and the only sure winners so far have been the viewers witnessing the most exciting EPL season in quite some time.

Article by Tunde Ajibade.

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