Everton suffered their fifth defeat in seven home games as they were beaten by Burnley to extend their perplexingly poor form at Goodison Park while losing ground in the race for the top four.
Impressive first-half goals by Chris Wood and Dwight McNeil stunned the Blues whose midfield was overrun by the energetic Clarets, and though Dominic Calvert-Lewin pulled the hosts back into the contest with a trademark headed goal, they couldn't find a way through in the second half.
With Abdoulaye Doucouré out of action for as many as 10 weeks, James Rodriguez being withheld until after the international break because of a calf issue and Gylfi Sigurdsson struggling with an ankle problem, Carlo Ancelotti tweaked his side by deploying Alex Iwobi and the tip of a diamond formation. Tom Davies was fit to start on one side, with André Gomes on the other and Allan as the holding presence in front of the back four.
Iwobi wouldn't make it to half an hour in his favoured central role, however, as Ancelotti was forced to retool his tactics once Everton had fallen 2-0 behind. But the Nigerian had been busy in the opening minutes, playing Richarlison in for the game's first chance which the Brazilian belted goal-wards, forcing a parried save by Nick Pope in the Burnley goal.
Iwobi then benefitted from a lucky bounce in midfield and again fed Richarlison but the latter's pass looking for Calvert-Lewin was overhit.
A quarter of an hour had elapsed when Davies was caught trying to shield the ball in front his defence and was dispossessed, McNeil's cross was deflected out to Wood on the edge of the box and the New Zealand striker picked his spot with an accurate curling shot inside Jordan Pickford's left-hand post.
Eight minutes later, Wood was in again as the visitors counter-attacked with a long ball forward but his shot deflected behind off Ben Godfrey before a strong claim for handball against Mason Holgate was turned down by Video Assistant Referee, Martin Atkinson.
That only delayed the arrival of Burnley's second which came via a piece of excellent play by McNeil. The winger ghosted away from his marker to receive a pass towards the Everton area, turned Allan and then whipped an unstoppable shot around Pickford and into the top corner with 25 minutes gone.
The hosts threatened to collapse a couple of minutes later when Johann Gudmundsson raked a shot onto the post but within five minutes Ancelotti's men were back in the contest thanks to a very good move of their own.
Once again, Iwobi was involved, as he laid the ball off to Davies whose pin-point cross picked out Calvert-Lewin in the centre and he powered home a header from a central position.
Straight after the restart, Gomes found Richarlison with a nicely-weighted forward pass and, ignoring Iwobi to his right, the Brazil international fired a shot searching for the far corner but Pope made the save before Calvert-Lewin steered a header from a free-kick disappointingly over the bar.
At the other end, though, Burnley remained a threat and when Iwobi was robbed of the ball, Godfrey had to block McNeil's shot and Gudmundsson shot wide while Josh Brownhill was saved by Joao Virginia who had come on for his Premier League debut a couple of minutes earlier when Pickford was forced off with an injury.
If Calvert-Lewin's goal had provided Everton with the platform they needed from which to complete their recovery and go on and win the game in the second half, the Blues proved incapable of doing either. Perhaps most concerning for Ancelotti was that it wasn't for the want of trying; his charges were largely frustrated by Burnley and were limited by their own attacking failings.
Gomes forced the first save of the second period with a low, left-footed shot that Pope palmed wide in the 47th minute and a minute after that Lucas Digne delivered an excellent cross for Calvert-Lewin but the striker got his header all wrong and it went well wide of the target.
Michael Keane couldn't wrap his leg around a free-kick in the 58th minute and sent it just as far wide off his knee while Digne spurned the first of a handful of corners with poor deliveries that were either under-hit, over-cooked or deposited into the goalkeeper's arms.
Davies was removed in favour of Josh King in the 66th minute and while the forward added some pace and strength to the Toffees' attack, it didn't result in much more penetration up front. Instead, Burnley almost extended their lead but Ben Mee's header bounced off the crossbar and both Matej Vydra and substitute Jay Rodriguez forced further saves from Virginia.
Seamus Coleman came off the bench for Holgate and had a late shot blocked by Mee who had got in the way of another goal-bound effort a few minutes earlier but Everton would remain shut out and were forced to reflect after the final whistle on another damaging home loss.
Even accounting for key injuries, perhaps the most concerning aspect of this match was that for almost all of the second half, this was Everton more or less at full tilt… but they were tilting at windmills rather than making genuine inroads into the Clarets' defence.
There was enough purpose and energy about the Blues but the final product was often woefully inadequate from the likes of Iwobi and Digne, the decision-making or tough too often suspect from Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin, and the first instinct was too often to play the ball backwards rather than gamble on moving it forwards — to the point where the result felt depressingly pre-ordained.
Ancelotti now needs to pick his men up for what seems an impossibly big task against Manchester City in the FA Cup next weekend, one where they will somehow need to be much stronger in midfield and significantly more productive up front if they are to have any hope of progressing to the last four of the competition.
Everton lost to Burnley at Goodison Park in another one of these games against lower opposition that should have been a home banker. But there are no such things in this crazy Covid season — at least not for lacklustre injury-hit Everton.
Everton faced Burnley at Goodison Park on Saturday evening with injuries continuing to reduce the squad of first-team players. With injuries to key players mounting up, Everton face a challenge to maintain their charge for a place in the top four.
Abdoulaye Doucouré will be missing for an extended period after it was finally confirmed that he suffered a stress fracture in his foot during training and is now expected to be out for 8 to 10 weeks. James Rodriguez is absent again as he continues to struggle with his troublesome calf, Carlo Ancelotti electing to protect him until he is fully fit. Bernard is not included because he is suffering from a non-Covid illness.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is only on the bench after missing training this week with an ankle problem. Also, Yerry Mina and Seamus Coleman only return to the bench, where not one but two young goalkeepers are selected by Carlo Ancelotti yet again, while Robin Olsen has not overcome the injury that has sidelined him recently.
Tom Davies regained his place alongside Allan and Lucas Digne was deployed on the left flank with Iwobi at the head of the midfield diamond.
Burnley got the game started, and Iwobi did well to feed Richarlison who tested Pope a little with a pretty good opening salvo. Not so the ensuing corner. Davies went down after feeling McNeil's hand on back, and Gomes launched in a pretty good ball that was headed behind for an early corner. Davies's drive was then blocked.
Richarlison tried to play in Calvert-Lewin ahead of him but overhit the pass. Davies was mugged for the ball by Brownhill and it came to Woods who happily lashed it past an unsighted Pickford to give Burnley a very worrying lead.
Everton looked to work their way back into the game but slow build-up play and ultimately poor crosses from Holgate and then Digne ensured there was no goal threat. Richarlison got sandwiched in the next move but advantage was played instead of Everton getting a dangerous free-kick opportunity.
At the other end, Wood was given another chance to shoot but is deflected behind off Godfrey. Holgate's arm was high as he challenged Mee, who headed the corner behind. As Burnley continued their attack, McNeil curled in an absolute screamer into the top corner after rounding Allan. Oh dear…
Allan gave away the ball (yet again!) and this time Gudmundsson could only hit the post behind a despairing Pickford, who injured himself. Burnley fired in a free-kick that Calvert-Lewin headed behind. Farting around with short back and sides passing at the back almost gifted Burnely a third.
Davies redeemed himself with a splendid cross that was at the perfect height and pace for Calvert-Lewin, who almost burst the net with a very powerful header to hopefully put Everton back in the game. Richarlison came close with a shit that was lacking power.
Iwobi was the next to be robbed of the ball and as Burnley surged forward, it took a questionable block by Godfrey that hit his had and flew over. Everton final won a dangerous free-kick when Westwood wrestled Calvert-Lewin. Gomes planted it on Calvert-Lewin's noggin but his header was high.
Godfrey had to block another goalbound Brownhill drive as Everton sought the equalizer before half-time. Breaking at pace, Allan delivered a fantastic pass for Calvert-Lewin but his first touch was not good enough. Pickford finally went off, with Virginia getting his Premier League debut. Brownhill was first to test him with another decent shot, Burnley's 10th goalscoring attempt of the first half!
Vydra almost embarassed the Blues defence with a good run. Iwobi got a decen-looking criss in o Calvert-Lewin but again his first-touch was horrible.
At the start of the second half, fist action of note sw Gomes shoot from outside the box, but it lacked power and was easily pushed behind by Pope. Digne delivered a lovely cross for Calvert-Lewin but his jump was all wrong, as it hit his shoulder and went harmlessly wide.
Iwobi delivered another nice ball in straight to Calvert-Lewin but, with his back to goal, he somehow expected the ball to do the work rather than controlling it properly and the defender stepped in behind him.
Richarlison drew a foul wide right and Keane looked to volley it but not with his knee! After a nice throw-out (!) from Virginia, straight to Digne, the ball up to Calvert-Lewin from Davies was exquisite and looked like the Everton striker had controlled it brilliantly only for his next touch to be an inadvertent one off his standing leg and the ball ran away from him.
With Everton looking increasingly impotent, Davies was replaced by Josh King, Burnley swapping Gudmundsson for Brady. Godfrey and Virginia conspired to almost let Vydra in. Godfrey did well to glance away a great cross from P. Mee then looped a header on to the bar from the corner. It was end-to-end and Vyudrqa looked set to score but Virginia saved well.
As Everton tried to build again, Iwobi putting in a great ball direct to Calvert-Lewin's feet but his control was horrible again and the supply line was spurned. Holgate came off for Coleman as the final change by Carlo Ancelotti with 20 minutes left to rescue this game.
Tarkowski blocked Richarlison on the sideline and it glanced off Keane's head, taking it away from Godfrey at the far post. Jay Rodriguez replaced Vydra and Brady fired a free-kick high over Virginia's goal.
King gave the ball away, leading directly to a Burnley attack that saw Rodriguez fire straight at Virginia, who had positioned himself well. A corner at the other end was poorly overhit by Digne and then in the follow-up by Gomes. Pope got a yellow card for time-wasting as he lingered over the goalkick.
Coleman saw a shot blocked and Digne delivered a corner straight to the welcoming arms of Pope. A late Coleman cross drew a corner that had Virginia joining the fray to no advantage as Digne's corner was very poor. And so another "must-win" home match against lowly opposition ends up a loss. This is becoming monotonous.
Scorers: Calvert-Lewin (32'); Wood (13'), McNeil (24')
Everton: Pickford (44' Virgínia), Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Digne, Iwobi, Davies (66' King), Allan, Gomes, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin.
Subs: Tyrer, Sigurdsson, Mina, Nkounkou, (73' Coleman) Broadhead, Onyango.
Burnley: Pope [Y:85'], Lowton [Y:45+2'], Tarkowski [Y:76'], Mee, Pieters, Gudmundsson (66' Brady), Westwood [Y:37'], Brownhill, McNeil, Vydra, Wood.
Subs: Peacock-Farrell, Stephens, (78' Rodriguez) Bardsley, Long, Nartey, Dunne, Benson.
Referee: Jon Moss
VAR: Martin Atkinson
Everton hope to bounce back from the disappointment of their defeat to Chelsea on Monday when they face Burnley at Goodison Park this weekend.
The fixture is a repeat of Carlo Ancelotti's first match in charge of the Toffees in December 2019 when a Dominic Calvert-Lewin goal edged it and handed the Italian his first victory as manager of the club. A similar result this time would keep Everton on the coat tails of the teams currently occupying the Champions League spots with 10 games to go.
It could see the return to the side of Yerry Mina and Seamus Coleman while Robin Olsen will also be assessed for availability after overcoming the injury that has sidelined him recently. Gylfi Sigurdsson will also undergo a fitness test after missing training this week with an ankle problem.
However, Abdoulaye Doucouré will be missing again after it was determined that he suffered a stress fracture in his foot and is expected to be out for eight to 10 weeks. And James Rodriguez will again be absent, most likely until after the international break, as he continues to struggle with his troublesome calf.
“James played really well against Man United but he was not 100% fit,” Ancelotti explained in his press conference. We decided to give him a proper recovery and [not] let him play at 70 or 80%. We have taken this decision together. The player agrees."
With injuries to key players mounting up, Everton face a challenge to maintain their charge for a place in the top four but Ancelotti will feel that against relatively favourable opposition over the next three games in Burnley, Crystal Palace and Brighton that even an under-strength side can get the job done, at least in terms of the League. (The FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City will be another story.)
Against Burnley, however, the Blues will come up against the type of opposition they have struggled to break down in recent seasons. Sean Dyche's side is disciplined and hard to dismantle but they have also shown themselves to be susceptible under pressure, to which their recent 4-0 hammering at Tottenham attested.
Tom Davies is expected to return alongside Allan and with Mina back, it's possible that Lucas Digne could be deployed on the left flank or as a wing-back opposite Coleman.
Burnley, who come into the weekend in 15th but on a run of just one defeat in their last six in the Premier League, will be missing Charlie Taylor, Jack Cork and Ashley Barnes but could have Robbie Brady (Achilles) available.
An early goal for Everton and a determination not to sit back but to retain intensity could be the key to bruising any confidence in the Clarets' ranks but, particularly if Sigurdsson is missing, it has the feel of a very tight game with both sides struggling to find penetration and guile in the final third.
Kick-off: 5:30pm, Saturday 13 March 2021 on Sky Sports
Referee: Jon Moss
VAR: Martin Atkinson
Last Time: Everton 1 - 0 Burnley
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Mina, Keane, Godfrey, Digne, Davies, Allan, Gomes, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin