LONDON, England, May 19 – Fernando Torres ensured Rafael Benitez’s troubled reign at Chelsea ended with a third place finish, striking a 76th-minute winner to secure a 2-1 over Everton at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the Premier League season on Sunday.
But while Benitez could reflect on a successful end to his six-month spell at interim manager, Everton’s David Moyes experienced defeat in his final game in charge of the Merseyside club before leaving to succeed Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Benitez has failed to win over many Chelsea supporters during his six month stint as interim manager but he will walk away have delivered the club into the group stage of next season’s Champions League as well as the Europa League trophy.
Juan Mata put Chelsea on course for victory in the seventh minute and Torres secured the win that denied Arsenal the chance to move into third place after Steven Naismith had levelled for the visitors.
Attention will now turn to who will succeed Benitez and Moyes a with Jose Mourinho strongly linked with a return to Chelsea while Phil Neville — the Everton captain due to leave the club this summer and who missed this clash through injury — the latest name to be touted as a possible successor to Moyes.
Benitez admitted before this game his preference would be to remain in England — although he distanced himself from the vacancy at Goodison Park — but while the Spaniard’s future remains uncertain, his immediate priority was to ensure his six month spell at Chelsea ended in success.
It was Chelsea’s 69th game of a gruelling season and three of Benitez’s side — Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Oscar — were making a club record 64th appearance of the campaign.
There were few signs of fatigue though as they raced into a seventh minute lead when Mata capitalised on a mistake by Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.
The chance came as the home team broke quickly following a spell of Everton pressure, with Oscar releasing Demba Ba on the right hand side of Howard’s area.
The Senegal forward produced a low shot that the keeper was unable to hold and Mata reacted first to slot home from close range.
Guaranteed to finish in sixth, Everton had little to play for.
But the desire to ensure Moyes’ lengthy reign did not end in defeat acted as a powerful motivator and the visitors quickly forced their way back into the match, drawing level seven minutes later.
Naismith had been recalled in place of the injured Leon Osman and had already spurned a good opportunity when he skied an effort wide from Seamus Coleman’s cross.
But the Scotland international made sure with his next chance, pouncing onto a loose ball after a moment of poor control by David Luiz before exchanging passes with Victor Anichebe and clipping the ball past Petr Cech for the equaliser.
And Moyes’s side were desperately unlucky not to force their way ahead in the 18th minute when Darron Gibson’s long range shot rebounded off the post and against the back of Cech’s head before hitting the post again and finally bouncing away to safety.
Chelsea repeatedly threatened but the better chances continued to fall for Everton with Kevin Mirallas spurning a great chance when he tamely directed a close range volley straight at Cech.
The game was wide open with neither side showing any sign of producing a cagey end to the campaign.
But it was also turning into an encounter marked by glaring misses with Frank Lampard — presented before the game with a goal boot to mark his feat in becoming the club’s record goalscorer — uncharacteristically failing to find the target after being set up by a Ba flick immediately before half time.
And the pattern continued after the break with Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic denied before Everton substitute Nikica Jelavic somehow steering Leighton Baines’ low cross wide of the far post.
It was left to Spain forward Torres to provide the decisive blow when he finished from close range after Victor Moses had chested Oscar’s right wing cross into the Spaniard’s path.