Everton suffered their first home Premier League defeat of 2017 as they were beaten 3-0 by champions-elect Chelsea at Goodison Park.
It took a 25-yard Pedro screamer to break the deadlock after 66 minutes but once breached, Everton’s defence crumbled.
Gary Cahill tapped in from close range as a result of some slack marking and questionable goalkeeping before substitute Willian put the game beyond doubt following a neat passing move four minutes from time.
Everton’s only meaningful chance was limited to the first half, Dominic Calvert-Lewin striking the post from a cute angle. Despite a healthy dose of possession in the opening exchanges, Everton surrendered their perfect home form in 2017; the first time they’ve dropped points in nine games.
Davies showing he belongs on this stage
Big games call for big performances. Unfortunately for Everton, you could count on one hand the amount of players that rose to the occasion.
18 year-old Tom Davies was one of those; the teenager with 21 senior appearances to his name excelled where players nearly twice his age and with 10 times as many starts floundered.
Following a wobbly couple of games in which the academy graduate looked jaded from an extended run in the team, Davies was setting an example not just to the young players on the pitch but to the senior ones too. Executing tackles with the power of a locomotive and the grace of a martial arts sensei, Davies was in fantastic form. He looked 10ft tall strutting around Goodison Park, and sharing a stage with international Goliaths like Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante, he did not look out of place one bit.
Alongside Idrissa Gueye, Davies helped Everton take control of the game in the first half, the only disappointment being that they could not orchestrate the chances the possession may have merited.
Gana’s man-marking job not enough
Without the imperious Morgan Schneiderlin, taking points from the league leaders was always going to be a tough ask. If Everton were to give themselves a chance, they needed a big performance from Gana: and they got one.
Gana didn’t give Hazard a minutes peace and kept him pretty quiet, however Chelsea would soon find space with Gana often dragged every which way by the Belgian.
Whether that was down to personnel, formation or the individuals picked, Everton eventually lost out in midfield and were overrun at times. Perhaps the lack of protection afforded to the back four is something Ronald Koeman should be answering to; it’s something Everton have struggled with in the absence of Schneiderlin.
The good, the bad and the white flag
While Pedro’s left-footed stunner would have been near impossible for even the best ‘keepers in the league to keep out, Chelsea’s second and third were certainly preventable from an Everton point of view.
The award of the free-kick that led to Cahill’s goal was dubious, but Everton’s defending thereafter was suspect. Not one but two Chelsea players were allowed in front of their markers while Maarten Stekelenburg could have been stronger, either to gather the cross of clear.
And the third was an example of a team who had given up in the final five minutes. The league leaders went up a gear in the second half, leaving The Toffees eating dust and Willian’s simple tap in summed this up. No one picked up the runs of Cesc Fabregas and then the Brazilian.
The third probably flattered the visitors, as Everton gave a strong account of themselves, and Evertonians will always appreciate when their team demonstrates the desire to at least compete. But the third was indicative of a team that had given up the game, prompting an immediate walkout from a significant portion of the home support.
Blues on the beach? Not just yet
Despite the heavy scoreline, Everton competed with Chelsea and ensured that they weren’t going to get things their own way. Even at 0-0, those inside Goodison were treated to an entertaining game of football. It had energy, passion, commitment, counter attacking football and a dose of hard-but-fair challenges to go with it. It even had a couple of scenes of pantomime courtesy of the league’s favourite villain, Costa.
It’s easy to cite the scoreline and sneer that Everton’s players were sauntering about with their flip-flops on. West Brom’s defeat on Saturday after all guaranteed Everton’s European qualification for next season. But Everton gave as good as they got in the first 55 minutes, with a committed display. Okay, the attacking intent was somewhat lacking but -Chelsea’s third goal aside- you can’t charge the players with the accusation of being on the beach.
Starting line-up almost paid off
Toffees on Twitter were far from enthused when the team sheets were released on Saturday. Despite some brief cameos and a tap in against Hull City, Calvert-Lewin is yet to convince the Everton faithful, while Enner Valencia’s best displays have come from the bench.
But the pair were well up for this one and their tireless running and harassing of Chelsea’s defenders looked like it was going to give Romelu Lukaku his one-on-one chance against one of Cahill, David Luiz or Cesar Azpilicueta.
The forward three were actually a fluid trio to begin with; Lukaku often going wide right to try and disrupt a very organised defence. Combined with Valencia’s movement, it pulled Chelsea’s back three out wide and left the occasional gap in the centre of defence.
But Chelsea’s back 5 have been nothing short of sensational this year and with a coach renowned for his defensive and organisational qualities, it wasn’t long before Chelsea got to grips with Everton’s tactic. They’ve kept the third most clean sheets in the league (14) and boast the third meanest defence (29 against). Koeman deserves at least some credit for trying something different with limited resources.