Lift our boredom, Fabregas
CHELSEA v EVERTON
(Tomorrow, 3.40am, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
At times, Chelsea appear on a mission to bore their rivals to death.
Watching Jose Mourinho's methodical plodders trudge towards an inevitable title triumph can feel like a date with a tax accountant.
The mastery of the profession is admirable. The dedication, application and attention paid to the smallest details deserve the highest praise.
But at some point, there is a fleeting temptation to tear out one's eyeballs to spare further suffering.
Such criticism is qualified of course. Mourinho remains a tactical genius. He stands alone, unopposed, in his rarefied ability to alter the complexion of a game from both the whiteboard and the dugout.
But in recent weeks, most neutrals would rather be stuck in a lift with their tax accountant than in front of a TV watching Chelsea.
Cesc Fabregas' return to their line-up against Everton tomorrow morning (Singapore time) cannot come soon enough.
The Spaniard must move through the Stamford Bridge dressing room with the grace of a young Muhammad Ali moving through the heavyweight division, sidestepping punch-drunk pugilists and brawny old bruisers along the way.
Fabregas has been sorely missed. That much is obvious. Chelsea huffed and puffed against Aston Villa and Manchester City without ever blowing the house down. They were efficient, without ever being euphoric.
Against Bradford in the FA Cup, they were barely conscious.
The stats tell the obvious story. Fabregas leads Europe's top five leagues with assists (15) and, according to WhoScored.com, he averages 3.2 key passes per game.
Against City, the entire team only managed three key passes.
But Fabregas' presence transcends the numbers game.
During the Spaniard's absence, Mourinho's reverted to default mode. Mind the gaps. Play safe. Pick Ramires. Pinch the points. Job done. Title won.
Mourinho's impeccable resume backs his caution, but Chelsea's stature and their Premier League position possibly do not.
Relegation scrappers throw bodies behind the ball and eke out slender victories. Their instincts are not to go in for the kill, but to avoid a counter-attack, an unexpected mauling.
Mourinho shares these traits. Chelsea are blessed with Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian and now Juan Cuadrado, but also a manager whose instincts are always to hold the line.
His fallback position hasn't changed. He plays not to lose. Then he plays to win.
It's a subtle difference, perhaps, but not one traditionally associated with either Manchester United or Arsenal, the only other sides who once regularly dominated the Premier League summit.
With City lost in the foggy mind of a muddled manager, the Premier League finds itself lumbered with the least interesting title contenders in recent memory.
The 1-1 draw between the two sides typified their respective campaigns - organised, overly tactical, slightly repressed and missing anything approaching spontaneity or creative invention.
That's not to say Hazard, Oscar and Willian haven't had their moments and Nemanja Matic remains a majestic, imperious presence in midfield, but how many times have Chelsea truly captivated?
Like the title race itself, the artisans have held sway. The artists are working on a shrinking canvas.
It's no coincidence that Mourinho has mounted a spirited defence of Fabregas' understudy. He has championed Ramires' return. The Brazilian fits snugly into the Mourinho mould.
Ramires overcame his injury niggles to offer Chelsea a second water carrier alongside Matic. He's steady, competent and largely error-free; a man made for Mourinho.
If Fabregas were a Rolex, Ramires might be a cheaper model. The timing is mostly reliable in both cases, but Fabregas is prettier to look at. So are the Blues with the Spaniard in the side.
Mourinho highlighted Ramires' work rate against Liverpool, City and Aston Villa, but Chelsea triumphed in only one of those games in normal time - against the Villans in a scrappy contest.
The pulse rarely quickened. The Blues are not renowned for rousing contests.
Mourinho loathes pantomime football and the farcical elements of high-scoring games. He finds tactical indiscipline difficult to watch.
But Chelsea's recent performances have been no easier on the eye.
The engrossing North London Derby between Tottenham and Arsenal provided a stark reminder of what's been missing from the title race.
The Blues are not getting bums off seats with their mechanical mediocrity.
The best team in the Premier League are not playing the best football. Hopefully, Fabregas' return will address that anomaly.
The Blues are not always expected to be brilliant, but they could be less boring.
Mccarthy upbeat ahead of bridge visit
Ahead of the Merseyside Derby with Liverpool it was reported that James McCarthy had aggravated his hamstring problem.
But the 24-year-old surprised everyone when he was in the starting line-up for last Sunday's match, making his first appearance since December.
He played the full 90 minutes and after the match he declared that his injury problems were now behind him.
And McCarthy (above) was bold enough yesterday to say the Toffees were aiming to win at Stamford Bridge in a Premier League clash tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
"It was just good to be back out there. It has been a quite frustrating campaign for myself, but the most important thing is the team," he said.
"Unfortunately we didn't get all three points against Liverpool but we move to Chelsea and go there trying to take maximum points."
The Blues won the reverse fixture in a pulsating 6-3 win at Goodison Park but their midfield strongman is anticipating a tighter game.
Nemanja Matic was among the goalscorers in the August match, but the Serbia international said: "Now, at home, we have to win. We know that it is also going to be difficult but, if we want to be champions, we have to win.
"Everton are not the kind of team to concede six.
"They did against us but not again, so we just want to win; it doesn't matter if it is with six goals or 1-0, we just need three points."
Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho claimed that a seven-point advantage at the summit was "nothing"and Matic echoed his manager's sentiments.
Said the Serb: "We have many games to the end and only seven points' lead. Because Manchester City are a very good team, they will fight to the end and we will see at the end.
"It is a long way to go."
- Wire Services.
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