Chelsea wave Benitez goodbye with win over Everton

Posted by Phil Lythell

After a week full of emotion, Chelsea signed off their 2012-13 campaign with a flourish in their 2-1 home win over Everton on Sunday.

With Frank Lampard scoring the goals that places him alone at the summit of Chelsea's all-time scoring list and Branislav Ivanovic securing the club a second major European trophy in two years, the team could have been forgiven for being off the boil in the 70th game of a ludicrously exhausting season. Instead, there was energy, desire and more than a little creativity as Chelsea made sure of the third-place finish that they so utterly deserved.

- O'Farrell: Defeat epitomises Everton's season
- Brewin: Rafa exits as Moyes goes forth
- No lap of honour for Benitez


Both teams merit praise for what was an excellent contest. When there is little riding on the result for either side there are two types of game that can occur. There is the game played at walking pace with all 22 players more concerned about what pair of speedos to take on holiday and there are those where each team plays with total freedom, the shackles removed with no pressure to win. At Stamford Bridge, the supporters were treated to the latter.

All the ingredients we there for a classic Premier League encounter in May -- bright sunshine, jubilant fans, emotional departures -- and it didn't disappoint. Both teams were committed to playing football which ensured that the match was a very open affair with each side ready to counter-attack the moment the opposition's forays came unstuck.

There was no play-acting, no cynical tackles and no haranguing of the referee. It was as enjoyable as a meaningless contest can get.

From a Chelsea perspective, it was both impressive and surprising to see no discernible hangover after events in Amsterdam on Wednesday. The players had every excuse to be a little half-hearted with the main objectives already achieved, though perhaps the threat of two playoffs -- one to determine third spot and one to book their berth in the Champions League group stages -- spurred the boys in Blue into one last effort.

Beating Everton is not to be sniffed at, especially this season when they have produced their best football since the 1980s. The fact that Chelsea have managed to do the double over them this season should be cause for celebration, even more so when their poor recent record against the Toffees is taken into account.

David Moyes' team were bright and energetic with their clever movement demanding total focus from Chelsea's defence. Thankfully, Gary Cahill continued from where he left off in the Amsterdam ArenA, putting in a consummate display of centre-back play. Everton's goal was neatly worked and beautifully finished by Steven Naismith. But apart from that, Cahill snuffed out positions of danger before they had time to develop into anything more serious.

Further forward, Fernando Torres had an excellent game despite spending most of it stationed on the right flank. He ran the channels well, tracked back diligently -- even earning a yellow card -- and was always looking to join Demba Ba to double Chelsea's attacking options when the situation demanded. Juan Mata was at his impish best, conducting every forward move and getting on the scoresheet with probably his simplest goal of the season.

Behind them, Nathan Ake had a solid game on his first Premier League start. Positionally excellent, he broke up a plethora of Everton attacks and it was his intervention that set the ball rolling for Torres' equaliser. Ake plays with a swagger and determination that is vital in defensive midfield and if he continues to progress then he is certain to get more chances to impress next season.

It was also great to see Paulo Ferreira get on the pitch for the final few minutes of what looks like being his final game for the club. The term 'loyal servant' was made for Ferreira. Happy to be part of the squad but also always ready to perform when called upon, he has always been a firm favourite with the fans. Last season he had a stormer away at Benfica in the Champions League quarterfinal despite having not played for an age.

It is a mark of his professionalism that he maintained the same level even if he did not get the game time he might have wanted. Ferreira is a three-time winner of the Premier League title and the standing ovation afforded to him by the Stamford Bridge crowd was a testament to his contribution to the club over the past nine years.

And finally a word on the manager. Rafael Benitez has suffered it all since his arrival in November and while he has brought much of it on himself, the time has come to say show a modicum of respect for what he has done. It has not been perfect and he has been his own worst enemy at times, but third place is secure and a trophy is in the bank.

Chelsea had by far the toughest run-in out of all the clubs vying for a top-four finish, yet positive results have been earned against Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and Everton, which has is no mean feat.

But Benitez is the past. Now it's time to look look forward to the return of both the Special One and the Premier League trophy as they come back to their rightful home.

Bring on next season!

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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