Clinical Chelsea too strong for Everton.
Brief summary… Everton were second best, especially in the second half, to a Chelsea side who always looked capable of stepping up a gear as they ran out deserved winners.
With qualification for next season’s Europa League now confirmed, Everton were able to concentrate on trying to avenge the disastrous November 5th loss away at Stamford Bridge. Sadly, the quality of the champions elect was far too much for a spirited, but ultimately well beaten Everton who suffered only their second home loss of the season and first of 2017.
Ronald Koeman had a change enforced upon him thanks to an injury to Morgan Schneiderlin sustained in training leading to a starting line-up of: Stekelenburg, Baines, Williams, Jagielka (C), Holgate, Gueye, Barkley, Davies, Valencia, Calvert-Lewin and Lukaku.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, with the Premiership title within sight, named his starting eleven thus: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Matic, Alonso, Kante, Moses, Pedro, Hazard and Costa.
The man in the middle with the watches and the whistle was Jonathan Moss.
A quick start by the Blues saw Jagielka find Barkley and he released DCL down the left channel to beat Azpilicueta only for his strong shot to beat Courtois but hit the post with Cahill blocking Lukaku’s effort on the rebound.
Chelsea went down the other end and Williams cleared after Stekelenburg spilled a 25-harder from Cahill.
Alonso span away from the attentions of Holgate, but Williams was on hand to clear at the expense of a corner.
A slip in midfield by Williams allowed Costa to break and feed Hazard. The Belgian rounded Stekelenburg but could only find the side netting from a wide angle.
Costa drew the ire of the home crowd staying down after a fair but hard challenge from Davies. When play resumed, Matic was allowed to run fully thirty yards before firing straight at Stekelenburg.
Ronald Koeman was using Gana Gueye in a deeper role in the back three allowing Holgate and Baines to play further forward as wing backs supporting Davies and Barkley in the midfield.
Everton responded with Lukaku latching onto a loose ball, but his shot was a tad hurried and went wide.
Chelsea spurned a golden opportunity as a long ball saw Costa get away from Jagielka, but his volley from eight yards ballooned high over the Gwladys Street goal.
A spate of bookings after the half hour mark saw Cahill (deliberate hand ball), DCL (pulling Moses back) and Azpilicueta (foul on Valencia) all see yellow.
Everton’s second best chance of the opening session came as a clearance from Cahill cannoned off Alonso sweetly for Valencia but his dash into the area ended with a cross that was far too strong for Lukaku to have a chance of converting.
Half time: 0-0.
Neither manager made any changes during the interval, but Chelsea gave a warning with a training ground corner that caught the Everton defence unawares and they were grateful to see a low cross and eventual shot smuggled away for a second corner.
A bright Everton counter attack saw DCL find Lukaku and his pass inside was run onto by Davies at pace. The youngster evaded Luiz, but couldn’t maintain control to find a shot.
A dreadful back pass by Jagielka saw Stekelenburg race off his line to clear but caught by Costa who was duly yellow carded.
Davies getting forward again gave Valencia a shooting opportunity, but Cahill deflected the effort wide. Chelsea looked to break at pace from the corner only for Valencia to ankle tap Moses and he too was booked.
Everton were still in the game, but Chelsea struck with a clinical 65th minute opener as Pedro collected a pass, turned sweetly and fired a terrific shot from 22-yards into the top corner.
Ronald Koeman made a double change on 71 minutes with Mirallas and Kone replacing DCL and Valencia respectively.
Hazard for a foul on Barkley and Gueye for a foul on Hazard saw two more yellow cards brandished and from the free kick against Gueye, Chelsea doubled their lead. The previous warning of a low free kick went unheeded as the ball was drilled through the wall and Cahill poked home the rebound off Stekelenburg.
Fabregas and Ake replaced Pedro and Luiz on 81 minutes and Willian for Hazard a further three minutes later.
Chelsea carved Everton open for their third goal on 86 minutes as Fabregas fed Willian in space for a simple finish to send the visiting fans into raptures of joy.
Full time: 0-3
Ronald Koeman offered the following thoughts, “we started well, were unlucky with the shot that hit the post, and we did a good job up till going one nil behind.”
“They’re a team who will create and take chances, the third goal was a very good move, but I didn’t think we deserved to lose three nil.”
“They’re a more experienced side and we had three youngsters playing again, we missed Morgan Schneiderlin, but up till they scored, I thought we were still in the game.”
Final analysis… Everton without the injured Morgan Schneiderlin were always going to have their work cut out against a powerful, talented and well-drilled Chelsea who, in all honesty, never looked overly troubled.
Tom Davies and Mason Holgate worked tirelessly throughout and Enner Valencia too put in a decent shift, but Chelsea were too strong in all areas of the pitch and once they had taken the lead through Pedro’s glorious strike, they never looked like being pegged back.