Saturday 23rd December, Goodison Park – After the Carabao Cup quarter-finals midweek and a six goal thriller at the Emirates on Friday, it was over to Goodison for the early Premier League kick-off on Saturday – ninth versus third in the league, Everton v Chelsea FC.
There were a lot of reasons for this to be a difficult game for Chelsea. Everton had not lost a single game since Sam Allardyce was appointed manager – five wins and a draw in the Premier League and Europe. That one draw had been a 1 – 1 v Liverpool at Anfield, the only other top 4 team they’d played since big Sam arrived.
Mr. Allardyce had also overseen two shock results against Chelsea in the last two seasons, a 3 – 2 victory with Sunderland in May 2016, and 2 – 1 win with Crystal Palace April 2017.
Alvaro Morata was also suspended for Chelsea. Although Everton had their own top scorer missing – Wayne Rooney was out with the flu, they had Yannick Bolasie back from a serious knee injury – just like Palace had another tricky winger, Wilfried Zaha back when they beat Chelsea earlier this season.
Chelsea set up in a 3-4-3, with Antonio Rudiger starting in place of Gary Cahill, and N’golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko in midfield.
Michael Keane returned to Everton’s starting line up alongside team captain Phil Jagielka. Idrissa Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin and Gylffi Sigurdsson were in midfield, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the lone striker role ahead of them.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Pickford 8, Martina 7, Keane 8, Jagielka 8, Kenny 7, Schneiderlin 6.5, Gueye 7 (Baningime 6.5), Davies 6 (Williams 7), Lennon 6 (Ramirez 5.5), Sigurdsson 7.5, Calvert-Lewin 7.5
Subs Robles, Williams, Holgate, Baningime, Bolasie, Niasse, Ramirez
Courtois 7, Moses 7 (Zappacosta 5.5), Rudiger 7, Christensen 7, Azpilicueta 7.5, Alonso 7, Kante 7, Bakayoko 7.5, Willian 5.5 (Batshuayi 5), Pedro 6 (Fabregas 6), Hazard 7
Subs Caballero, Cahill, Zappacosta, Drinkwater, Fabregas, Hudson-Odoi, Batshuayi
Small Ball, Not Played Effectively
Antonio Conte started Eden Hazard in place of Morata, with Michy Batshuayi back on the bench as usual. Apart from the game against Huddersfield, whenever Chelsea have used Hazard as a striker this season they’ve been a bit ineffective in attack. It was the same today – lots of chances but no goals.
Everton crowded their penalty area with only Calvert-Lewin up top. The effect was that Chelsea could easily get back possession whenever Everton tried to go forward, but they didn’t really counter effectively, even with fast players like Hazard, Kante, Willian and Pedro on the pitch.
This meant Chelsea lost the offensive benefit of the large number of opposition turnovers they forced in their defensive area and in the middle of the park.
And strangely, in the first half at least, Chelsea kept putting high crosses into the box, which is how they would normally play with a big target man like Morata on the pitch. It didn’t work with Eden Hazard or the other attacking personnel they used, and many possessions were wasted this way.
Victor Moses got down the right wing and put a cross into the box in the second minute, but Eden Hazard couldn’t connect with the ball.
Nine minutes in Chelsea had an amazing series of chances, but somehow they were all kept out: Hazard put another cross in the box but Michael Keane outjumped Tiemoue Bakayoko to head it out. Possession went to Marcos Alonso, and he volleyed towards goal but Jonjoe Kenny blocked the shot.
Bakayoko hit the rebound past Jordan Pickford, but Phil Jagielka was back on the goal line to clear it. Willian tried to score off the second rebound, Pickford was beaten again but Jagielka stepped right and made a second consecutive goal line clearance. It was a real captain’s performance in defence from Phil. Amazing stuff!
Possession Without Penetration
Hazard tried a cross from the left a few minutes later, but this time Pickford cut it out himself. Moses put another cross in on 19 minutes, but this one flew all the away across goal, and no one could get in to finish it.
Then Moses was brought down just outside the box, and Cuco Martina was booked for a late challenge. It looked like a really good set piece opportunity; Alonso had scored the only goal v Southampton from a similar position. This time though he gave way to Willian – and unfortunately the Brazilian curled his free kick just over the bar.
Chelsea almost got through on the counter ten minutes before half-time. Bakayoko intercepted a pass to Tom Davies in midfield and got forward at speed. He put a through ball in for Pedro on his left, and the winger managed to get a vicious shot off despite pressure from Keane, but Pickford parried it out for a corner.
Moses whipped another cross in just before halftime, but it came off Willian’s chest to Jagielka, who cleared the danger.
Everton only managed a couple of chances the entire first half. There was an effort from Davies that went well wide, and then a Calvert-Lewin shot that was blocked by Cesar Azpilicueta, after Andreas Christensen had been dispossessed and left on the floor on the touchline. They didn’t have a single shot on target, yet the score at half time made it an even game: 0 – 0.
More Of The Same
Sam Allardyce made two changes at half time: Sandro Ramirez and Ashley Williams replaced Aaron Lennon and Tom Davies. Beni Baningime came on for Idrissa Gueye six minutes later.
Chelsea kept trying to cross the ball in – although these were aimed lower, the strategy didn’t work any better than in the first half. Moses tried a couple of crosses himself, but they were knocked out again by Jagielka and Kenny.
Another Moses cross got through to Pedro on the penalty spot, but Pickford made an amazing save to deny him. Alonso drove the ball in on the rebound, but this time Ashley Williams blocked his shot.
Hazard immediately tried another cross from the left wing, this one passed all the way to Moses on the right. He passed to Kante, who moved it on to Willian, but the Brazilian winger’s weak shot went out harmlessly for a goal kick.
Hazard was brought down by simultaneous tackles from behind from Baningime and Keane, but the center back got the yellow card. Hazard stayed down for a while, and there was some worry about an injury, but he was able to shake it off and keep playing.
Hazard had a shot well saved by Pickford shortly afterwards. Conte brought on Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fabregas and switched to 3-5-2, and although Chelsea dominated possession even more, they still couldn’t find a breakthrough.
Rudiger got forward and tried to hook a shot in himself, but Pickford saved and held it. Moses almost forced an Everton own goal, when Ashley Williams headed one of his crosses off the bar – Conte had his hands on his head. At the other end, Michael Keane almost stole a win for Everton, but he just couldn’t keep his header down and on target.
It was a frustrating draw for Chelsea – it felt like two points dropped for them and a point gained for Everton. It didn’t make much of a difference to their position in the league table – neither Arsenal nor Liverpool were closer after their draw on Friday – but those two points could be really important later on.
Chelsea made thirty (!) crosses in total this game – it was difficult to tell at what point they would realize the strategy wasn’t working. They tried 25 shots to Everton’s 5, and although they were 8 – 0 up on the home side in shots on target, only one stat counted at the end.
Final Score Everton 0 – 0 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Guardian
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