Chelsea have taken steps to rectify their lack of strikers by opening talks with Demba Ba's representatives. The Newcastle United striker has a £7.5m release clause in his contract that can be triggered once the January transfer window is open.
Chelsea have been desperately short of back-up for Fernando Torres this season and have sold their reserve striker Daniel Sturridge to Liverpool for around £12m with his move due in the new year. Signing Ba would also make sense in the short term as it would allow Chelsea to pursue their principal target Radamel Falcao next summer, his club Atlético Madrid being unwilling to sell the prolific forward until the season has ended.
The Blues' interim manager, Rafa Benítez, was coy when pressed on the issue after his side had come from a goal behind to beat Everton at Goodison Park. "We do not talk about our business in public," he said, adding of the directors: "My job is to prepare the team for games and they will let me know. He plays for another team so I do not like to talk about it."
Ba has scored 29 goals in 51 appearances in the league for Newcastle and has proved to be a steal since signing from West Ham United on a free in June 2011. The 27-year-old Senegalese has been diagnosed with a long-standing knee condition which has put other suitors off in the past.
He fits the bill for Chelsea in that he is not only prolific but also relatively cheap and has proved that he can cut it in the Premier League. "Demba is out of my hands, there is nothing I can do about it so what will be will be," Newcastle's manager, Alan Pardew, said at the weekend.
Torres again demonstrated his prodigious workrate against Everton but was unable to find the net. Instead Chelsea were once again reliant on their old stager Frank Lampard who, ironically, is free to sign terms with foreign clubs in the new year, so it was apt that his second and winning goal was met by a chorus of "sign him up" by Chelsea's fans at Goodison Park.
Lampard's knack of appearing in the right place at the right time has brought Chelsea many victories and helped to win league titles, not to mention European glory in the past 11 years. Twice he showed that natural instinct during a game in which his side were second best to Everton, yet the midfielder has yet to be offered a contract extension.
Benítez expects Lampard to remain at Stamford Bridge until at least the end of the season. "Frank is under contract, he's fully committed and he's a great player," he said. "My job is to keep him fit and, if he scores in every game, I will be really pleased. Lampard is a great player, he is a good professional, he is doing well for us. I will try to bring the best from him until the end of the season and you never know."
Asked what the new year might bring, Lampard said: "I just hope for me personally playing in a winning team. I will keep trying to give my best as I've always done and will continue to do. I know there's a lot of speculation but for me the enjoyable bit is the 90 minutes."
Everton's profligacy has haunted them this season and, despite taking an early lead through Steven Pienaar, Lampard's header three minutes before half-time and a close-range finish after 72 minutes secured a fourth successive victory for Benítez on his return to Merseyside.
Everton dominated the opening 30 minutes and should have killed off the game, Pienaar firing the ball past Petr Cech in the second minute. Eden Hazard, woefully off the pace in the first half, squandered possession in midfield and Phil Jagielka, playing at full-back, galloped down the right wing before delivering a deep cross. Victor Anichebe's header rebounded off the far post but the ball fell to Pienaar who shot home from around the penalty spot.
Quite how they failed to go further ahead was a mystery solved mostly by Cech, who made a number of impressive saves, and bad luck. On three occasions Everton hit the woodwork.
"We're not disappointed with how we played, we played really well, we've run the European champions really close but we just didn't have enough in the end," said Moyes, who apologised for berating the referee, Howard Webb, after the final whistle. "I was wrong to do so and I apologised to him but I thought there was a free-kick on Leon Osman in the 92nd minute on the edge of the box."
Chelsea equalised when Torres slid the ball to Ramires and the Brazilian lifted a pinpoint cross into the penalty area where Lampard headed into the bottom corner.
Ross Turnbull was introduced for Cech at half-time because of a thigh injury and with 20 minutes remaining Nikica Jelavic's header cannoned off the crossbar, the striker having earlier hit the post. Two minutes later Chelsea were in front. Torres and Ramires combined before Juan Mata's shot was stopped by Tim Howard, only for Lampard to turn home the rebound.
"I thought it was a great win for us," Benítez said. "All the team showed character, commitment, passion and quality against a good team. We knew that they could be tough but I had confidence in my players and you could see in the second half that we were controlling." Benítez and Moyes warmly shook hands before the game, despite the Spaniard labelling Everton a "small club" when manager of Liverpool in 2007.
Man of the match Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
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