Drogba v Everton: Harrowing memories for Chelsea fans as implosion cost them the title

It is, perhaps, his best ever goal in a blue shirt, but when Chelsea reflect on Didier Drogba’s 2006 strike against Everton at Goodison Park ahead of their trip there on Sunday, they shouldn’t only remember his goal.

As Chelsea chased down Manchester United to retain their Premier League crown, Drogba used every bit of his considerable power and explosivity to beat Tim Howard from long range and deliver an 87th minute winner at the home of a David Moyes-era Everton in the heat of a title race. This was Drogba at his finest, and at his most decisive. He could always handle the pressure of the big moment.

It was Jose Mourinho’s third season at Stamford Bridge, and after Chelsea had won two Premier League titles in a row – on the back of Arsenal’s invincibles season the year before the Portuguese coach’s arrival – questions were being asked of United boss Alex Ferguson for the first time in the Premier League era.

Questions were being asked of Chelsea, though, too.

For one thing, after the investment of Roman Abramovich, many still wanted to know just how genuine this new owner really was: Andriy Shevchenko was bought for a club-record £30m fee, and even if the Ukrainian was one of the best strikers in Europe at the time, he will still go down as a massive flop during his time in the Premier League, even if his flick on means he will always have a part in Drogba’s goal at Goodison Park.

Mourinho didn’t want him, and with Drogba in the team, you could see why. But the signing created a climate which eventually became toxic, and added a stress that the manager never had to endure in either of his first two seasons.

Drogba’s 33 goals put him a long way ahead of the rest of the Chelsea team, but they weren’t enough to stop Manchester United from getting their hands on their first Premier League title in four years. The Ivorian’s strike in that 3-2 victory in mid-December brought Chelsea to the Christmas period – and the midway point of the Premier League – just two points behind their rivals, who lost 1-0 to West Ham United at Upton Park on the same day.

The title race was well and truly on.

But if Mourinho thought a late winner at Goodison Park would rally his team and kick-start a second half of the season where his side blew away all opposition in the same way they had done in the two previous seasons, he was mistaken. It may have taken 87 minutes to grab the winner against Everton, but the next game – away to Wigan – saw Chelsea win only thanks to a 93rd minute strike from Arjen Robben. Yet again, Chelsea left it late, and yet again, they won 3-2.

Throughout Mourinho’s time at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea always seemed to find a way. Even when not playing well, with scandal, drama and nasty words never far away, Chelsea still managed to win. But it was when big players came up with big goals that you knew the Portuguese coach’s team was a special one.

Not that season, though.

After Drogba’s late strike, Chelsea would only lose one more match all season – away to the iconic Premier League rivals of Mourinho’s first spell in charge, Liverpool – and yet their inexorable march to the league title never materialised.

This season under Antonio Conte, Chelsea are once again doing just enough to win, they are finding a way when they need it the most. They ground out a win against Manchester City, and they recovered from a chastening defeat at Old Trafford just two weeks ago to look like Champions-in-waiting once again.

And yet, if Chelsea fans cast their minds back to that season under Mourinho – in what was to be the last full season of his first spell before he left the club at the start of the next campaign – they’ll find a harrowing vision of what could be to come.

Back in 2007, Chelsea were on a nine-match winning run and only three points behind the leaders. With third-placed Liverpool a further 14 points back, it was well and truly a two-horse race. Yet in the end, Chelsea would lose out to United by six points after drawing each of their last five matches.

They dropped 10 points from those last five games, and could have won the league by four points; it would have been a third title in a row for Mourinho, and may have saved the blushes of Shevchenko and Abramovich. The excess money would no longer have been talked about.

And with five games left of this Premier League season left to play, and with Chelsea only four points ahead of second-placed Tottenham, perhaps another trip to Goodison Park is the perfect time to reflect not just on Didier Drogba’s wonderstrike, but also on a season where Chelsea imploded in the final five games.

The lesson for the Blues this time is that looking back on the past and only remembering the good bits is a certain way to fail. It’s the harrowing memories of the past that stop you making the same mistakes over again.

 


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