Carlo Ancelotti’s team selection and tactics were a masterclass as Everton climbed to seventh after blanking Chelsea with Gylfi Sigurdsson scoring a cool penalty to win the points.
Saturday evening footie with two thousand lucky Blues fans inside Goodison as Everton took on Chelsea hoping for a repeat of the outcome the last time to two sides met at the Grand Old Lady and not the result or performance from last time out at Stamford Bridge.
Everton with Seamus Coleman, Lucas Digne, J-P Gbamin and Fabian Delph all unavailable through injury were rocked by the loss of influential playmaker James Rodriguez on Friday thanks to a calf strain. And with Jonjoe Kenny and Niels Nkounkou unlikely to feature in the thinking of Carlo Ancelotti, a back four entirely made up of centre-backs – Holgate, Keane, Mina and Godfrey – looked a distinct possibility.
Ancelotti confirmed the absentees from the Chelsea game when he said on Friday, “Seamus Coleman started this week to train with the team, which was good. I think he will be available for the next game, against Leicester on Wednesday. Fabian Delph is out with the injury he suffered in last week’s match and James had a little problem during the game against Burnley. He had a problem with his calf and was not able to train this week. It is nothing special. I think he will start to train next week – but for this game [against Chelsea] I don’t want to take a risk. We have to look at him after Saturday’s game to see if he will be available to train and then play against Leicester.”
Turning his attention to the opponents, Carlo said, “Chelsea is in a really good moment, after a difficult start they started to play like they want and are capable. It is necessary for us to give and fantastic and top, top performance [to win the game]. The question is, are we able to do this? The answer, in my personal opinion is, yes, we are able to compete. We are where we want to be in the table – that means to fight for a position in Europe. There is a lot of competition at the top but Everton is there and we want to be there as long as possible. We start a busy and difficult period [against Chelsea], so for us this is a really good test. It will be an important moment, an important test, not only tomorrow [Saturday], but in December.”
With fans there to cheer the team on, the manager submitted his team sheet reading: Pickford, Holgate, Mina, Keane, Godfrey, Doucoure, Allan, Sigurdsson (c), Iwobi, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
In the visitors dugout was Ancelotti’s former player Frank Lampard who has guided his side into the knockout stages of the Champions League and the top three of the Premier League table ahead of the weekend fixtures.
Chelsea looked vulnerable early in the season but have offset any defensive frailties with a run of seventeen games unbeaten, and worrying have yet to lose ‘on the road’ this season in any competition. Lampard only had availability concerns over Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech while winger Christian Pulisic had recovered from a slight hamstring strain. Speaking specifically about Pulisic, Lampard said, “Christian had a tiny bit of awareness off the back of the Leeds game with one of his hamstrings but he’s training normally so we should be as we were. Christian is still a work in progress. I don’t want to call this an injury in midweek because if it had been a different type of game then I might have used him. We know his abilities and he showed them when he came on against Leeds last week. I just have to find the right way to get the best out of him quickly and consistently.”
Having seen his side thrash Everton 4-0 at Stamford Bridge when the two sides met last March in his first head to head with Carlo Ancelotti, Lampard paid tribute to the former Chelsea boss saying, “I was heavily influenced by him as a player and as a man at the time. He’s right at the top when I speak about the managers that I worked with. He’s had huge success in his career at various clubs and one-to-one I found him to be a great coach and a great man. I very much look forward at all times to seeing him and speaking with him.”
Knowing a win would send his team to the top of the table, Lampard duly named his starting eleven: Mendy, James, Zouma, Silva (c), Chilwell, Kante, Kovacic, Havertz, Mount, Werner and Giroud.
On a cool evening, on referee duty was the rotund Jonathan Moss.
Ben Godfrey with a good challenge to deny James a shot saw Chelsea win the first corner which they botched completely. The visitors were looking to involve Havertz in the early exchanges, his movement and range of passes have troubled earlier opponents. Mendy in the Chelsea goal made the first save of the game, low to his right to deny Richarlison as the Blues got forward.
Sigurdsson took the Blues first corner won by Iwobi, his out swinger find the head of Mina but the ball sailed over the crossbar. Holgate got a lecture from the referee for an ill-advised challenge on Chilwell, the Chelsea free kick was well defended as the ball went all the way back to Mendy as the opening exchanges were pretty even.
A foul by James on Sigurdsson gave Everton the chance to pump another high ball into the Chelsea area, Giroud seeing the ball out for a throw-in that saw an Iwobi cross hammered clear by Zouma. Chelsea were seeing more of the ball through the opening 15 minutes with Everton playing calmly, defending well and looking to counter attack, largely through Richarlison. Another free kick saw the ball easily claimed by Mendy who then hurt himself falling to the ground.
Everton were rightly awarded a 21st minute penalty as Mendy flattened Calvert-Lewin after he’d won a header from a long ball out of defence by Pickford. Gylfi Sigurdsson took the responsibility ahead of Richarlison and coolly stroked the ball into the bottom right corner having sent Mendy the other way.
As the rain fell, Goodison was full of smiles but a chorus of boos rang out when referee Moss showed Richarlison a yellow card for a clumsy challenge on James. James took the free kick to bend his shot around the wall but Jordan Pickford was alert and palmed the ball away for a corner. From the set piece, the ball came out to James who crashed in a shot that Pickford touched onto the near post and it span across the face of goal to safety.
Referee Moss drew more boos for awarding a free kick awarded against Allan. Pickford made another sharp save to deny Zouma volleying a header from Giroud on target as Chelsea looked to strike back quickly. Godfrey caught by James saw more boos for the Chelsea player escaping a yellow card.
Half an hour gone and a goal to the good, Everton were competing well against a Chelsea side who whilst looking the more fluent, clearly were taken aback by falling behind. Mina went down holding his left foot but was okay to continue. Pickford looked to hurt himself having slipped and made to hurry making a clearance after Godfrey did well to beat James to the ball. A Werner header went over the bar and Mendy saved from Richarlison after Iwobi won the ball and Sigurdsson relayed it on as the teams exchanged blows ahead of a push into the back of Mina by Mount saw the Colombian collide awkwardly with Pickford.
Everton were defending solidly, closing down well to limit Chelsea to half chances at best, the back line of four big central defenders causing Chelsea a problem they were struggling to outwit. Three added minutes were signalled as Werner failed to get on the end of a cross from Chilwell. Kante caught Allan with a rash tackle and he was rightly booked ahead of the whistle to end the half.
Half Time: 1-0
No changes by either manager for the second half as Everton attacked the Gwladys Street where the majority of the 2000 fans were encamped. An early warning for the Blues came as Kante found Mount to play a clever chip with Pickford off his line, the ball just clearing the crossbar. Holgate conceded a corner as Giroud looked to find a man at the back post, Everton defending the set piece well.
Mina with a good block on a Havertz shot gave Everton the chance of a quick counter, Mendy going low to his left to deny Richarlison and then Chilwell conceding a corner. A second Sigurdsson cross was destined for the forehead of DCL only for Mina to get there and head it high and wide. Godfrey fouled by Giroud gave the Blues a free kick in a good area, Sigurdsson again the taker, his shot just too high and over the crossbar.
Approaching the hour mark, Reece James was yellow carded for what looked a very poor challenge on Allan as both sides began to warm up possible substitutions. Everton thought they’d won a second penalty as Iwobi released DCL and when he cut into the box and was caught by Chilwell, referee Moss didn’t think twice before pointing to the spot. VAR looked at the move and disappointingly adjudged DCL to have been marginally offside as Iwobi played the ball. Boooo.
Silva was booked for a foul on DCL, the Brazilian not having a great night against the Everton number nine. Good work on the left by Richarlison saw him win a corner off James, Sigurdsson swung it in only to see Zouma rise first to head clear. Tammy Abrahams was the first change, replacing Havertz after a flowing Everton counter ended disappointingly with Iwobi putting his cross way off target into the fans behind the goal.
Michael Keane was marshalling the defence well and making his presence felt with a number of key blocks, headers and clearances. With twenty minutes to play, Richarlison and Giroud came together, Richarlison going down and unhappy at the challenge but, he got up and played on, the Blues needing a full-on effort to protect the lead and look to increase it on the counter attack as the visitors strained forward in search on an equaliser.
A great ball from DCL found Richarlison but James was quick to get back and deny him the chance to get a run and shot on goal. Chelsea were leaving openings as they pushed forward, Iwobi on a break sending a cross just too far in front of the arriving Doucoure. Everton though were playing their best team game in weeks and roared on by the fans continued to hold Chelsea as bay, Keane again blocking a cross from Chilwell at the expense of a corner that Mina headed clear. Doucoure drew a yellow for a foul of James to give Chelsea a free kick just outside the area that Mount took and his shot hit the foot of the back post and rebounded to safety – Everton living dangerously.
Into the final ten minutes and Everton made a change, Andre Gomes replacing Gylfi Sigurdsson and Chelsea swopped Gilmour for Kovacic. Giroud fired a half chance off a cross from Werner over the bar. A great run by Godfrey saw him find Richarlison and when Gomes tried to find him for a second time, James fouled him. Tom Davies replaced Alex Iwobi with five minutes left in normal time, and Gomes sent the free kick low into the box where Abraham hoofed it clear. James conceded a corner to keep the ball at the right end of the pitch, Gomes to the near post for Keane and his headed was put behind by Gilmour, the second corner coming to nothing. Jonjoe Kenny made a cameo appearance coming on for Richarlison as five added minutes were signalled.
Chelsea were throwing everything at Everton whose defending was arguably the best of the season so far, compact, confident and strong. This was every bit as good a team performance as the win at Spurs on the opening day of the season, just about anyone of the starting eleven was a candidate for Man of the Match.