The Blues travel to Goodison Park this weekend, still coming to terms with Sunday’s extraordinary 3-3 draw with United at the Bridge.
It was the first time in the Premier League era that Chelsea had failed to win after building a three-goal cushion, and it left Andre Villas-Boas shell-shocked.
He was convinced David Luiz’s deflected header in the 51st minute had clinched the victory… until the first seeds of doubt were planted seven minutes later after Wayne Rooney converted the first of two quick-fire penalties.
From 3-0 to 3-2 took barely a quarter of an hour, snuffing out home fans’ cries of ‘Rio, Rio, what’s the score?’ When sub Javier Hernandez headed the equaliser with six minutes to go, it looked like Sir Alex Ferguson’s red army might push on to victory.
But the crumb of encouragement after a traumatic lead surrender was that Chelsea posed the biggest threat in stoppage time.
Juan Mata, who had earlier scored what may be February’s goal of the month, came a whisker away from making it 4-3 with a deliciously curled free kick.
Only the acrobatic dive of David de Gea kept the ball out, while another cracking shot from debutant Gary Cahill in the dying seconds was also saved. Cahill’s contribution in the absence of the injured John Terry and suspended Ashley Cole was immense.
AVB had failed to use the former Bolton captain in three previous matches, so the defender was in at the deep end.
His reaction? “Mixed emotions; it’s really sickening to have drawn the game in the end, but obviously a great moment for me to make my debut. If I can get match-sharp I can hopefully have a great career here.”
The 26-year-old has a five-year age advantage over John Terry, and deputised admirably.
If Cahill starts at Everton we might be watching a power shift, just like Terry’s gradual erosion of Marcel Desailly’s supremacy in central defence in the late 90s.