The Italian Job
Champions Chelsea began their second home game of the season twelfth in the premier league table. They hosted Everton at Stamford Bridge, whom at kick off, were a well-deserved four places ahead of them in eighth.
Last week we witnessed Antonio Conte’s Italian job, in which Chelsea snatched all three points to make Wembley even less comfortable for Tottenham than it already was. It was a brilliant performance tactically, Conte deploying a bristling Roman testudo shield wall, with six center backs and defensive midfielders in two ranks of three each. So what would the shape and tactics be this week, against an improving Everton side?
Everton, had shown good defensive quality so far this season, conceding only one goal in their previous two games against Stoke City at home and Manchester City away. They might have had a few tired legs from their midweek trip to Hajduk Split in Croatia, but they’d been a quietly efficient side so far this season.
Pedro was fit again for Chelsea, although still wearing a protective face-mask, and Cesc Fabregas had also completed his suspension. Conte opted to start them both, reverting to last season’s tried and tested 3-4-3 formation. Eden Hazard had played with the development squad during the week, and had also been called up by Roberto Martinez for Belgium, but was not in the matchday squad for this game. Everton lined up in a matching 3-4-2-1, and started Sandro Ramirez and Idrissa Gueye, both of whom were returning from injury. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who’d scored a fifty-yard golazo against Hajduk Split midweek, made his first premier league start for his new club.
Courtois, Alonso, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Moses (Christensen), Fabregas, Kante, Willian, Pedro (Bakayoko), Morata (Batshuayi)
Subs Caballero, Christensen, Tomori, Kenedy, Bakayoko, Musonda, Batshuayi
Pickford, Baines, Jagielka (Lennon), Williams, Keane, Davies (Besic), Holgate, Gueye, Rooney, Sigurdsson, Ramirez (Calvert-Lewin)
Subs Stekelenburg, Besic, Kenny, Martina, Lennon, Lookman, Calvert-Lewin
Normal Service Resumes
The line-up might have caused a few jitters among the home fans, as the Kante-Fabregas midfield pairing had looked a little bit shaky during pre-season and their first league game. They needn’t have worried though. From the first whistle Chelsea showed the same control and dominance that had carried them all the way to the title last season. It might also have been fair to say Everton showed them a bit too much respect this game, especially in the first half.
Under Conte, Chelsea have a very specific tactic for playing Everton, and they used that here today:
Step 1: PRESS RELENTLESSLY
Step 2: DISPOSSESS
Step 3: HIT THE AFTERBURNERS!
In their first major chance, Willian blazed up the right wing and laid off to Morata who had also drifted slightly wide. Morata cut the ball back inside but his pass was just behind Pedro, and he went for the spectacular, tapping the ball up and trying an overhead kick. It was too high though, at the end a let off for the visitors.
A few minutes later Pedro served the ball up for David Luiz, who was so high up the pitch he was Chelsea’s left winger at that point. Luiz took a shot from just inside the box but it was too close to the keeper and Pickford saved it. Pedro, who was Everton’s torturer-in-chief today also exchanged passes with Willian before driving a low shot from the right, but Pickford saved that as well.
The Maestro Returns
On 26 minutes, Chelsea finally made the breakthrough their dominance deserved. Willian passed a quick ball in from the right wing to the corner of the box. Fabregas zipped in and played a one-two with Morata that was part-intercepted upwards by the defence, but Morata managed to head the ball back in for Fabregas, and Chelsea’s midfield maestro calmly stroked it into the corner for the first goal. It was beautiful link up play from Morata, just like his assist for Luiz in their first game versus Burnley – and also a classy, composed finish from Fabregas.
Chelsea were totally in control and crucially, they didn’t let it slip, scoring a second six minutes before halftime. Everton were pinned back in their last third and their defenders made a couple of strong tackles that could have led to free kicks on the edge of their area, but the ref played advantage both times. They both turned out to be correct decisions.
The ball eventually got cleared out of the box, but it fell to Azpilicueta, and he curled a perfect cross back in to Morata. The young Spanish striker glanced it into the corner of the net for Chelsea’s second of the game, and his second of the season. Morata has a knack for getting away from his markers in the box, and he’d clearly learned his lesson from his missed opportunity against Tottenham last Sunday, in almost the exact same circumstances.
Better Second Half
Everton had barely troubled Chelsea’s defence in the first half, but they improved somewhat in the second. Wayne Rooney played a fantastic through ball for Sandro Ramirez on the counter, but Rudiger intervened at the last minute to prevent a certain goal. On 59 minutes Morata slightly mis-controlled and lost a long ball that had been played out to him, but Moses zipped in to steal it back. It looked like he might score but again the shot lacked power and Pickford easily held.
After a couple of late changes for both sides, Calvert-Lewin replacing Ramirez for Everton, and Bakayoko and Batshuayi coming on for Pedro and Moses respectively, Everton had a couple of good chances from crosses and set pieces. In one instance, Rooney hit an in-swinger that was a bit similar to the free kick that led to a Chelsea own goal at Wembley, but this time it was headed out. Ashley Williams managed to volley the ball back in again towards goal, but it just cleared the bar.
Willian and Batshuayi made a few counterattacking chances of their own late on, with Bakayoko striking a shot off a defender on one of them, but the game was winding down at this point. At the end it was a routine and thoroughly deserved two-nil win to Chelsea FC, and they leapfrogged their opponents to finish the weekend sixth in the premier league.
Final Score Chelsea 2 – 0 Everton
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Andy Hooper/Daily Mail
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