LONDON: Chelsea end 2012 in third place after coming from behind to beat Everton 2-1 at Goodison as Premier League transfer speculation swirled around the Premier League ahead of the official opening of the January window.
Frank Lampard, continuing as captain in the absence of injured John Terry, scored both the goals to raise further questions over Chelsea’s indecision over whether to offer him a contract extension beyond the end of this season.
Right now, with £12m Daniel Sturridge heading for Liverpool, the European champions are in urgent pursuit of Newcastle striker Demba Ba.
A £7.5m release clause in Ba’s contract has attracted interest from Arsenal and Liverpool but Chelsea’s entry into the race could push the fee beyond £10m for the 13-goal striker.
Chelsea’s top target is Colombian Radamel Falcao but he has insisted on staying at Atletico de Madrid until the end of the season, forcing the Blues to look elsewhere to find attacking support for Fernando Torres.
Ba joined Newcastle from West Ham in 2011 in a deal including the release clause which guarantees £2.5m of any transfer sum will go to the player himself. Qatari-financed Paris Saint-Germain are also considering an offer so Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has already inquired after Marseille’s Loic Remy.
The snag for Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez is that owner Roman Abramovich has reservations about spending heavily on the advice of an interim manager who may be removed at the end of May.
Home and away, Benitez is under pressure. Everton was another case in point. During his six years at Liverpool he criticised Everton as “a small club” and many fans from the other side of Stanley Park have never forgiven him.
Everton’s players began as if on a personal crusade of their own to make Benitez pay for his words, whoever he might be managing. Hence Steven Pienaar put them ahead in the 63rd second, Nikola Jelavic curved a free kick against a post and Leon Osman drew a fine diving save from Petr Cech.
However, Cech’s efforts to keep Chelsea in the game were achieved at the cost of an ankle injury which brought his 400th Chelsea appearance to a premature end at halftime with Ross Turnbull taking over in goal at the start of the second half.
He appeared with Chelsea, remarkably, on level terms. Three minutes before half-time, against the run of play, captain Frank Lampard headed home after a rightwing move between Fernando Torres and Ramires.
The second half was more even. Torres at one end and Osman at the other forced fine saves from goalkeepers Tim Howard and Turnbull and Jelavic headed against the bar to a cross from Leighton Baines. Almost immediately Lampard put Chelsea ahead from close range with his sixth goal of the season. Ultimately that meant Everton’s first home league defeat since last March.
“That took a huge effort after our sloppy start,” said Lampard. “After the first 20 minutes we could have been more than one down. But the lads dug in and I think we deserved to win it.”
Queens Park Rangers were left eight points from safety at the bottom of the table after losing 3-0 to Liverpool who scored all their goals in the opening 28 minutes through Luis Suarez (two) and Daniel Agger.
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