Everton 1 Chelsea 2
Yet again the concepts of value and price will fail to conflict Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich this morning.
Frank Lampard will not be leaving Stamford Bridge in January but as of tomorrow he can open talks with foreign clubs about a free transfer in the summer that will end his 12-year spell with the club.
Sentiment is an alien concept to the Premier League and, more often than not, rightly so.
But, from the two goals he scored at Goodison Park to cancel out Steven Pienaar’s early opener to earn Chelsea a win that moves them within four points of second-placed Manchester City with a game in hand to the challenge he made on Ross Barkley, 15 years his junior, with seconds remaining, Lampard, 34, is still making a difference.
Captain in the absence of John Terry, his first goal made it a 16th consecutive season he has managed five or more league goals and is testament to his resilience.
The sense that the power axis of Terry, Lampard and Ashley Cole needs to be broken up is not misplaced but if Abramovich had not allowed the trio such strength and influence, it would not be necessary to jettison players that still have plenty to contribute.
“I keep trying to give my best, as I’ve always done when I’m here, and I’ll continue to do so,” Lampard said.
“I’m enjoying playing again. I was injured for a while. I know there is a lot of speculation and talk, but for me, the enjoyable bit is being out there.”
Serving as interim coach, Rafael Benitez, in charge of his first game on Merseyside since leaving Liverpool in 2010, is in no position to discuss Lampard’s future and would make no comment on the club’s interest in Newcastle striker Demba Ba.
But he could at least reflect on a performance of real steel that earned a fourth straight Premier League win.
“Lampard is under contract and showed his full commitment,” Benitez said. “He is a great player. My job is to keep him fit and if he can score more goals that will be great. He is a great player and a good pro who is doing extremely well for us. We try to get the best from him and at the end of the season who knows?
“We have had some difficult games but especially this one because we were behind and they haven’t lost for a long time. We showed the level of our team and the options we have. This was one of the most difficult games so far.”
There should be no downplaying what was required to beat an outstanding Everton side that dominated for long periods and hit the woodwork on three occasions.
The hosts are desperately short on options but threatened to blow Chelsea away in the early stages with stand-in right-back Phil Jagielka crossing for Victor Anichebe to head against the post before Pienaar swept in with 63 seconds gone.
Nikica Jelavic struck the post with a free-kick shortly afterwards and Petr Cech pulled off a fine save from the outstanding Leon Osman, but Everton paid a heavy price for failing to make their superiority count with a second goal.
Chelsea’s only real threat had come from a burst from Ramires that saw his effort blocked by John Heitinga before Juan Mata’s follow-up was saved by Tim Howard but Everton went even closer at the other end when Cech got a hand to Jelavic’s low cross-shot.
But four minutes before the interval Lampard struck, pulling away from Heitinga to steer a header into the far corner from a Ramires cross.
Chelsea were not overly disrupted by Cech having to be replaced by Ross Turnbull at the break due to a knee problem and just as Everton looked to be tiring, Osman swapped passes and forced a low save from the former Middlesbrough goalkeeper before Jelavic headed against the bar.
But with 20 minutes left Lampard was alert to touch in from just a couple of yards after Howard blocked Juan Mata’s drive.
Everton were spent and only a wonderful tackle from Sylvain Distin denied Fernando Torres a third before Jelavic shot straight at Turnbull in added time.
“We’re not disappointed with how we played, we played really well and we’ve run the European champions really close but we didn’t quite have enough in the end,” said Everton manager David Moyes.
“We played well enough to get something from the game and for us not to come away with something is harsh on us.”
Everton (4-5-1): Howard 7; Jagielka 7, Heitinga 5, Distin 8, Baines 7; Naismith 6 (Vellios 77) Osman 8, Hitzlsperger 7 (Barkley 78), Pienaar 8 (Oviedo 81); Anichebe 7; Jelavic 6.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech 7 (Turnbull 46, 7); Azpilicueta 7, Cahill 7, Ivanovic 6, Cole 7; Ramires 8, Luiz 7; Mata 7 (Oscar 85), Lampard 8, Hazard 6 (Moses 74); Torres 6.
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