From the perspective of what a win would have meant — a Premier League record 10th away win, a first win at Stamford Bridge in 27 years and ending this round of matches by sitting in fourth place — this 2-0 defeat to Chelsea was, naturally, disappointing. Had Everton won this, they really would have elevated themselves to the status of bona fide top-four contenders this season.
This was a fourth-versus-fifth match-up in name only, though. In reality, on current form, the Londoners are probably the second-best team in the country and the Toffees, patched up and fatigued, are arguably positioned above their true level in the context of recent performances — if not results — and that was ultimately reflected in both the lopsided nature of the contest and the final score.
Had it not been for Jordan Pickford, it might easily have ended in similar fashion to the 4-0 result in favour of Chelsea that played out exactly a year ago today; and yet, with a lot more defensive solidity and a bit more courage and boldness going the other way, Everton might have got something out of this.
Unfortunately, playing their third game in the space of seven days and with Abdoulaye Doucouré and James Rodriguez in particular absent through injury, it was always going to be a tall order. It felt like a stretch too far for the players and what made it that much more difficult was that they came up against the Chelsea that we all expected to see towards the beginning of the season following their massive summer expenditure.
Indeed, Thomas Tuchel was able to make five changes to the team that started the 1-0 win at Liverpool in midweek without seeing any drop-off in quality in his side. The same could not be said for Carlo Ancelotti who was able to welcome Allan back to the starting XI but Tom Davies was only deemed fit enough to take a spot on the substitutes’ bench and Seamus Coleman’s continued absence meant that Alex Iwobi was named at right wing-back. The Nigerian has fulfilled the role before but it ended up being a miscalculation against this opposition.
It was from attacking down that weak right flank that Chelsea scored both their goals and though they had plenty of joy scything through other areas of Ancelotti’s back line, it was those two moments of vulnerability that proved to be decisive. And with so little adventure going forward, at least until it was too, Everton really only had an opening for Richarlison in the 57th minute that the Brazilian badly miscued to show for their attacking endeavours
Chelsea dominated the ball but didn’t come close to troubling Jordan Pickford until a quarter of an hour gone when Jorginho’s volley off a headed clearance from a corner skidded a few feet wide of the post.
Everton’s first real of pressure around the 25th-minute mark ended with a fairly tame header by Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Lucas Digne fired a direct free-kick off the top of the wall after Richarlison had won a foul on the edge of the box but they fell behind just past the half-hour mark.
The understanding between Iwobi, deployed in a right-wing role, and Mason Holgate, playing on the right side of a central defensive three, broke down badly allowing Callum Hudson-Odoi to break into space behind them, feed Marcos Alonso and when Kai Havertz tried to steer the Spaniard’s cross home, the ball hit Ben Godfrey and bounced past Pickford to make it 1-0.
Alonso came close to doubling the lead when he was put clean through too easily with a ball over the top by Andreas Christensen but Pickford did superbly to deny him with a one-handed save, while André Gomes had a low shot from 20 yards comfortably saved by Eduard Mendy on the stroke of half-time.
Just a goal down at the break, Everton were very much in the contest but needed to be bolder going forward if they were to get back into it in the second half. They weathered an early storm when Havertz controlled Hudson-Odoi’s chip and fired past Pickford but his goal was disallowed for handball, Reece James dragged a shot across goal and Pickford Hudson-Odoi himself by palming his rasping shot over the bar.
In between, Everton’s best move of the game thus far came via Davies who had replaced the ineffective Iwobi in the 56th minute and added a lot more bite and desire to move the ball forward. The substitute fed Gylfi Sigurdsson who then found Richarlison but the Brazilian’s sliced his shot horribly wide when he should at least have hit the target.
With 63 minutes gone, Havertz was played in behind the Blues’ defence and was felled by Pickford who probably had little option but to attempt to take the ball off his feet, handing Jorginho the chance to make it 2-0 from the spot. The Brazilian sent the keeper the wrong way and effectively killed the game.
Ancelotti replaced Sigurdsson with Josh King and then Gomes with Bernard and the visitors came out of their shell a bit in the closing stages without ever threatening to affect the scoreline. With a better final ball, a problem that undermined Everton’s efforts for much of the game, they might have pushed Chelsea back in their heels a bit but Blues were wasteful in key areas.
Instead, it was left to Pickford to ensure the margin of defeat didn’t get any bigger, denying Timo Werner after he had rolled Godfrey and then pulling off an impressive double-save to keep first the German out and then N’Golo Kanté. Substitute Mason Mount had one more decent effort from distance that Pickford pushed away before referee David Coote called time on Everton’s first defeat on the road since the start of November.
This was always going to be a tough ask so the result isn’t all that depressing; it’s the run of three games coming up, with the FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City thrown in as well, that could end being the difference between European qualification or not. Take nine points from Burnley, Crystal Palace and Brighton and progress to the last four of the cup and a thrilling end to the campaign is in reach.
Without James Rodriguez out for a third successive game with a calf injury, and Doucouré rumoured to be out for the season, Everton had nothing meaningful to offer against a dominant Chelsea side.
Tom Davies was fit to return on the bench tonight but Olsen was not one of the two gaolies on the bench again. Both players missed the wins over Southampton and West Bromwich Albion along with Seamus Coleman and Robin Olsen. No Abdoulaye Doucouré either... so the worrying rumours about a broken toe may well prove to be true.
Everton kicked off with their now-standard hoof that presented the ball to Chelsea. And they wouldn't see any possession for 2 minutes until the next hoof from a Pickford free-kick. Chelsea played it around at will until they won the first corner. A tricky work-up saw Werner sky a shot from the penalty box line.
Brief Everton possession was squandered by Allan and the one-way monotony resumed. Everton did intercept upfield only to work it all the way back to Pickford, who punted into touch! The game plan seemed to be back to Pickford if Everton gained possession, then hoof it up to Calvert-Lewin and hope for the best.
Richarlison got his first touch out wide after 12½ minutes but gave up a free kick in the attack, and Chelsea's methodical build-up resumed. Reece James went on a long run and won another corner off Godfrey, Jorginho drove through the crowd 2 yards wide.
Holgate hindered a Werner run and took an early yellow for his trouble. From the dangerous free-kick, Pickford did superbly to punch through the crowd and Jorginho could only punt behind for a goal-kick.
Finally, almost an attack by Everton after 20 minutes, and some decent movement of the ball around the Chelsea area until a stupid soft punt from Iwobi straight into the gloves of Mendy.
Everton tried to work another attack, but they were holding back too deep to profit from Richarlison's probing ball forward. Digne worked a ball in for Calvert-Lewin but Gomes jumped for it ahead of him and put him off completely.
Everton were getting some remarkable decisions in their favour, most of them while defending, but Richarlison got clipped in the dee, a wonderful chance for Digne or Sigurdsson: all Digne could do is pass it into the wall for a corner, and it the bouncing ball in the box defied any meaningful contact.
And with Everton still stretched from that attack, Chelsea went forward and got behind the Everton defence thanks to Hudson-Odoi who eAlonso, Havertz clipped a weak shot off Godfrey and into the net. So much for the stern disciplined defence.
There was almost a second but Keane this time was in the right place to block. Allan quickly got Richarlison away but he allowed Christensen to cherry-pick the ball off his boot.
An smart long ball from Christensen found Alonso in acres of space one-on-one with Pickford, who pulled off an excellent save. A wonderful piece of control and lay-off by Calvert-Lewin went largely unnoticed because Everton could not stick the ball. Good defending by Iwobi.
A much better Everton attack forced Mendy to stretch and the ball came to Gomes off Iwobi, his weak shot forcing a save from Mendy just before the break but a huge mountain to climb for Everton in the second half.
Everton kept playing it backwards at the start of the second half, and were on the back foot whenever there was a turnover, forced by an aggressive press and a high workrate from the Chelsea players that would repeatedly thwart Everton's efforts.
Chelsea won a free-kick with Digne getting booked, Alonso forcing a fingertip save by Pickford. Havertz scored again but it was called back for handball.
Davies came on for Iwobi before the hou-mark, the Blues switching to the diamond.. Richarlison got himself into a great position but his first touch allowed the ball to go too far across him and he could only slice it wide. At the other end, James fired across goal and wide.
Hudson-Odoi worked the ball well and forced a tip-over by Pickford. Havertz made another good run and Pickford brought him down for a fairly soft penalty for Jorginho to tuck away. Oh dear.
Kurt Zouma went down and needed treatment, King replacing Sigurdsson. Everton were huffing amd puffing now, Gomes seeing a lot of the ball and Everton mounting a series of attacks but nothing really coming close. On an Everton corner, Mendy was driven into the net by Godfrey.
Bernard cane on and Davies got a chance to shoot that was locked but it looked like Everton were doing a little more to compete. But it was short-lived and Chelsea resumed their vice-like grip on proceedings, Werner shrugging off Godfrey very easily but he can't eat Pickford.
Bernard went on something of a run and looked to play a forward pass but uncannily picked out the defender right in front of him. A couple of good passes and a great turn by Richarlison got the ball to Holgate who wellies his cross far too hard.
Two amazing saves by Pickford, from Werner, then Kante, stopped a third to keep the score down. Bernard had a chance to shoot from distance and what a shot! What an utterly awful shot, Bernard skying it. Davies tried to hit Alonso's Achilles, and saw yellow.
Pickford made another fine save from Mount in stoppage side Everton really hadn't laid a glove on this Chelsea side, who ran out to a very comfortable win, putting Everton's Top 4 claims into rather stark perspective.
Kick-off: 6pm, Monday 8 March 2021 on BT Sport 1
Chelsea:Mendy, Zouma, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Alonso, Jorginho, Kovacic (80' Kante), James, Hudson-Odoi (66' Mount), Havertz (89' Pulisic), Werner.
Subs not Use: Arrizabalaga, Rudiger, Silva, Chilwell, Giroud, Ziyech.
Everton:Pickford, Holgate [Y:16'], Keane, Godfrey, Digne, Allan, Gomes (77' Bernard), Sigurdsson (70' King), Iwobi (56' Davies [Y:90']), Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin.
Subs not Used: Virginia, Tyrer, Nkounkou, John, Broadhead, Onyango.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
VAR: Michael Oliver
In what has suddenly become a potential “six-pointer” in the chase for a Champions League spot, Everton travel to much-improved Chelsea on Monday evening hoping to extend their magnificent away record with a positive result at Stamford Bridge.
While for supporters the worst result of the Carlo Ancelotti era so far was the Cup derby defeat to Liverpool's reserve side, for the Italian, by his own recent admission, it was last year's trip to his former club, exactly a year previously and the last match before the Premier League locked down following the novel coronavirus outbreak, that was his most painful.
The Toffees were comprehensively dismantled that day by Frank Lampard's side in a heavy 4-0 defeat at a time when the two clubs were separated by eight places and 11 points. On Monday, it's a case of fourth versus fifth and just one point between them in the table but it will be Thomas Tuchel and not Lampard in the home dugout.
The German is unbeaten as Chelsea boss since succeeding Lampard in January and his team's accomplished victory at Anfield that saw the Londoners supplant Everton in fourth spot underlined how well he has done in organising a team that was struggling for consistency prior to his arrival.
As such, this game promises to be as difficult as any Ancelotti's men have faced this season and the challenge of ending another multi-decade hoodoo — Everton haven't won on this ground since 1994 — will be much greater than it might have been just a few short weeks ago.
However, the Toffees have made a habit of raising their game for the big occasions this term and boast one of the better records against their rivals for the top six. Playing their peers rather than teams in the bottom half has coaxed better performances from the players and the hope is that that will be the case again in West London.
Ancelotti acknowledged after the win at West Bromwich Albion on Thursday that his team's performances could improve and that it's something they're working but he couldn't fault his players's spirit.
“I'm really happy to be the manager of this team and these players because I think they follow me and respect my ideas,” he said.
“Of course, we would like to play better and I am not the only one — the players want to play better. I think for this, we need to improve the technical quality of the squad but what we can't improve is the spirit of the team which is really, really high.”
Most of his available first-teamers have been involved in two games in seven days and while Ancelotti's selection for this one is likely to feature more changes, he will be hoping that some of his recent absentees will be available. Allan and Gylfi Sigurdsson would be good candidates to come in with André Gomes taking a rest but it remains to be seen whether Tom Davies is fit again to retake his place in front of defence.
If he is, it's possible that Abdoulaye Doucouré could also get a rare breather and then it's just a case of whether James Rodriguez is fit to take a place in the team after missing the last two matches with his troublesome calf issue.
Chelsea have had few injury problems of their own and both their recent absentees, Tammy Abraham (ankle) and Thiago Silva (thigh) could both be in contention on Monday, leaving Tuchel with his pick of which line-up to go with.
For Everton, avoiding defeat and preventing Chelsea from putting any more daylight between them in the table will be the first priority but they will also know that if they can keep what has been a relatively goal-shy side quiet and pinch one or two of their own, they could spring a surprise that really would vault them further into the reckoning for the top four.
Kick-off: 6pm, Monday 8 March 2021 on BT Sport 1
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
VAR: Michael Oliver
Last Time: Chelsea 4 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Digne, Allan, Doucouré, Sigurdsson, Rodriguez, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin