By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Discovering Your Options
Wednesday 25th October, Stamford Bridge – Everton made the midweek journey to London for a Carabao Cup Round of 16 fixture versus Chelsea FC. Although it was just a few months into the 2016/17 season, this was already the second meeting this season between these teams.
The first game had been a relatively straightforward 2 – 0 home win for Chelsea – Everton did not even register a single shot on target the entire game. Maybe that had been down to the tactics from their manager (at the time) Ronald Koeman, or tiredness from their Thursday game in the Europa League, or a combination of the two.
Either way, things had changed a lot for Everton since then. They’d gone on to lose five of their next seven league games. And after their most recent loss, conceding five goals against Arsenal at the weekend, Koeman had become the latest EPL manager to be sacked. U21 manager and ex-Everton defender David Unsworth was in charge for this Carabao Cup game.
The teams might have been at opposite ends of the league table, but most Chelsea fans knew their own manager had been in danger of losing his own job the same weekend. After consecutive home defeats to leaders Manchester City and bottom club Crystal Palace, losing to Watford might have been fatal. Conte would not have deserved it by any means, but Chelsea’s owner is not known for his patience with bad results.
Before the game, Antonio Conte had complained about the difficulty of playing three domestic competitions in England, when all the other big four European leagues only play two. But he also mentioned that the league cup was a great opportunity for a club to discover its options – to test youth players and backups, and see if they were ready for bigger roles in the team. And after an injury hit start to the season, Chelsea could definitely do with additional options in midfield, wing back and across their front three.
As expected both teams rotated and featured some younger players, although Chelsea made a few more changes than Everton did. Andreas Christensen, Ethan Ampadu, Kenedy and Charly Musonda were in the line-up for Chelsea, and Jonjoe Kenny and Beni Baningime started for Everton.
Danny Drinkwater recovered from a calf injury and made his first Chelsea start. Willian and Davide Zappacosta replaced Pedro and Cesar Azpilicueta, who’d both started the game against Watford on Saturday. Kevin Mirallas, Aaron Lennon and Tom Davies all came into the side for Everton.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Caballero 8.5, Zappacosta 6, Rudiger 7.5, Christensen 5.5, Cahill 5.5, Kenedy 7, Drinkwater 6 (Fabregas 6.5), Ampadu 6, Musonda 7 (Pedro 6), Willian 8, Batshuayi 6 (Morata NR)
Subs Eduardo, Clarke-Salter, Scott, Fabregas, Sterling, Pedro, Morata
Pickford 6, Baines 6.5, Jagielka 6.5, Williams 6.5, Kenny 7, Davies 5.5, Baningime 6, McCarthy 6 (Calvert-Lewin 7.5), Mirallas 7, Lennon 7 (Lookman 7), Rooney 7 (Niasse 7)
Subs Robles, Keane, Holgate, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Lookman, Niasse
Chelsea started on the front foot, but from the beginning and indeed throughout the game, Everton were more organized and more physically aggressive than they had been in the last few meetings between these sides. Christensen did well early on to dispossess Rooney cleanly on an Everton run into the box. Drinkwater also showed good distribution skills, with long passes from midfield to release Batshuayi up front.
Everton held firm until the 26th minute, when Musonda curled a right-footed cross in from a short corner. Antonio Rudiger lost his marker and got a free header at the far post, sending the ball back the way it came. It looped over the keeper, inside the opposite post for 1 – 0.
Rudiger has been a hidden gem for Chelsea this season, possibly their top signing after Alvaro Morata. It was his first Chelsea goal, and he fully deserved this moment in the spotlight.
More A Winger Than A Wing Back
Barely a minute later Zappacosta dribbled inwards from the right wing, leaving two Everton players in his wake. Ashley Williams had to take one for the team and body checked him just outside the box, getting a yellow card for his trouble. He later made an opportunity for Batshuayi to turn and shoot, but he couldn’t get enough power on it and it was an easy save for Pickford.
Zappacosta created quite a few problems for Everton in the first half, and just before halftime Willian made a pretty good opportunity for him on the fast break. He put the wing back past Williams with a through ball, and although the angle was tight Zappaosta could have crossed or tested the keeper. Unfortunately, he could not get the right finish and the shot went into the side netting.
If Chelsea controlled the first half, the second half was mostly Everton’s – they did everything but score. Rooney made a chance for Kenny, but his shot was off target. In their best chance of the game, Kenny crossed into the penalty area from the right, and Mirallas headed forward Rooney, who had escaped Cahill and Christensen’s attentions and was loitering unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box. Rooney volleyed his shot, but Caballero had tracked him and saved from point-blank range.
They kept applying pressure though, and Caballero almost became the villain when he passed the ball to Aaron Lennon in his own penalty area – but he managed to close him down and save to prevent an equalizer. Less than five minutes later Zappacosta backed off to allow another cross into the box, and Lennon, under heavy pressure from Kenedy shot over the bar from just a few yards out.
Then again Baines put a free kick in from the left, and Phil Jagielka got in ahead of his markers for a header, but Caballero pulled off another close-range reaction save to deny him. Chelsea were having real problems dealing with crosses of any kind, and Lennon threaded another one through to Mirallas, whose powerful volley from the penalty spot was again stopped by Caballero.
Conte brought on Fabregas and then Pedro to take back control of play, but it didn’t make much immediate difference. Davies fed Lookman in the box, but he dragged the ball too far wide before his shot, and put it into the side netting. Then against the run of play, Batshuayi intercepted a poor back pass and beat the keeper, but his touch took the ball into Jagielka’s path, and the defender slid in to clear it out. Batshuayi collided with the upright, but he was able to keep playing after some treatment.
On 80 minutes Lookman cut in from the right and unleashed a howitzer that came back off the bar. It seemed a matter of time until Everton scored, but Chelsea endured till the second minute of injury time…
Another Short Corner
Chelsea have been taking more short corners this season, maybe recognizing that they’d become less effective at scoring directly from corners since the departures of John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic. Whatever the reason, the shorter corners have been working very well for them.
And this particular set piece was a thing of beauty. Willian dribbled past one defender, passed past a second, got the ball back off a Fabregas back-heel and struck it first time across the keeper, and into the net off the far post. It all happened in one smooth, flowing move that reminded why this is called the beautiful game. Great candidate for goal of the tournament.
Frankly, Everton deserved a bit more from the game than a 2 – 0 defeat. They were able to grab a consolation at the end, when Oumar Niasse bruised his way past Rudiger and Christensen, before the ball bounced off Rudiger for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who dummied Cahill before he finished past Caballero for 2 – 1.
Chelsea faced a pretty tough examination from their visitors in the second half. Caballero was absolutely the man of the match for me. There’s no hiding from the facts – put this Chelsea team under pressure, and without N’golo Kante, David Luiz or similar players in midfield, they will fold. In fact, they did fold over and over this game, but Caballero showed a bit more experience and quality perhaps than Courtois had in some other challenging games this season, and held the line until their attacking quality won them the match.
Final Score Chelsea 2 – 1 Everton
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Metro
Would you like to write for London is Blue? Click on the “contact us” tab located on the top menu, fill out the form, and we can get started!