Against all the odds, Everton came from behind against Chelsea to earn, not steal, a well deserved point courtesy of a maiden strike from the impressive Jarrad Branthwaite.
When you fall off a bike, whoever ‘they’ are say it’s best to get straight back on and try again… and so it was for Everton who, in the wake of the first loss at Selhurst Park since 1994 last Sunday, hit the road to the capital again for Thursday’s showdown with the title-chasing, Champions of Europe, rag-tag, outfit masquerading as Chelsea.
Stamford Bridge has been a barren hunting ground for Everton with just ten points gleaned since Paul Rideout scored the winner 1994 while the hosts have taken 55 points in the same period – grim reading eh Blues?
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel currently has his side lying third in the Premier League table with only them across the park and Manchester City ahead of them, and they’ve progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League where they’ll take on Lille in their quest to repeat last years success in the final over City. Tuchel has had some injury concerns this season, none more apparent than the loss of former Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, and speaking on Tuesday the German advised that. ‘We can debate fitness endlessly. The player will say he’s fit. Fitness coaches will agree or disagree. Then comes the head coach who maybe agrees or disagrees. It can depend on the intensity level of the game. He played 70-something minutes against Zenit, then we had a lot of travelling, lack of sleep, and a very intense opponent with Leeds. We decided not to put him in straight away. I think he can play 70 [minutes] plus, but it depends how the game goes.’
Chelsea will be without fullback Ben Chilwell and midfielder Mateo Kovacic however, will have N’Golo Kante and Trevoh Chalobah available for selection after recovering from minor injuries. With rumours of Covid in the camp and needing a victory to keep pace with City, Tuchel named his starting eleven: Mendy, Azpilcueta (c), Silva, Rudiger, James, Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho, Alonso, Ziyech, Mount and Pulisic.
The somewhat depleted Everton squad suffered further injuries at Crystal Palace with Seamus Coleman sustaining a swollen foot after an unpunished foul by Benteke and Andros Townsend breaking a bone in a foot. The more disappointing news was that Brazilian striker Richarlison is likely to be out for at least two weeks with a calf injury that saw him withdrawn from the game at Palace.
Addressing the media on Tuesday, manager Benitez didn’t mention the position with Yerry Mina or Tom Davies but did advise on Richarlison, “In this case, we knew he had the problem with his calf. He wanted to be on the pitch, he wanted to help, but he understands that we were trying to do the best for him and the best for the team. We wanted to protect him.”
He went to add, “I met Dominic today and he was quite positive. With him, we have to make sure he does not take too much risk, because he has had two re-injuries. We want to be sure he is 100-per-cent fit and hopefully he will be a crucial player for us in the second part of the season. He is very close [to being fit] and I’m sure we will see him soon.”
And on the situation with midfielder Allan he noted, “In terms of Allan, he has been training. We have to keep an eye on him, and it was a light training session to be fair. I will say in his favour, in the last 15 minutes against Arsenal, he was playing with problems in his adductor. He told me this morning he is ready to help the team and, if I need him, he will be available. He is a warrior and he is a fighter.”
With Lucas Digne having advised his unavailability for Chelsea due to sickness and Coleman doubtful, JonJoe Kenny was in line for just his fourth appearance of the season, with other changes also to be confirmed. And those changes were confirmed when Benitez submitted his teamsheet with a much changed starting line-up of including a Premier League debut: Pickford, Holgate, Keane (c), Branthwaite, Kenny, Doucoure, Gomes, Gordon, Iwobi and Ellis Simms.
Our referee on a cool evening darn sarf was Michael Oliver.
Stamford Bridge appeared to be less than a full house as the two teams took to the pitch but as usual, the visitors sections were well populated by ever loyal and in good voice Toffees fans. And a steady start from Everton saw them match Chelsea through the opening exchanges before a great through ball by Jorginho found James racing beyond Godfrey only to bend his shot wide of the near post with Pickford livid at his defence for allowing themselves to carved open so easily.
A second Chelsea effort came in the 8th minute as James driving forward fed the ball to his right for Mount and he fired a low shot across the face of goal and wide but, two early warnings for Everton to heed. Ziyech with a magical turn to evade Holgate saw him gain the area and cross for Pulisic who tried an instant backheel effort, Pickford alert gathered comfortably. Chelsea won the first corner of the game as Pickford got a touch to a shot from Ziyech, Everton defended the set piece well enough.
A foul by Holgate stopped Pulisic from getting a run on goal and allowed the defence to reform as Chelsea looked to build patiently from the free kick. Gomes was next to transgress giving the home side a free kick 25 yards out and that saw Pickford acrobatically turn away the curling shot from James. Referee Oliver gave Chelsea another free kick for a foul on Pulisic, this one more central and 25 yards out that saw James first effort hit the wall and then send his follow-up shot rising to clear the crossbar.
Loftus-Cheek went down off the ball as we reached the twenty minute mark during which Chelsea had established dominance of the possession and had created three or four decent chances but, so far so good for this makeshift Everton side. Holgate became the first player to be booked for a rash tackle on Ziyech, he really does need to learn how to channel his aggression.
Chelsea pounced on a loose ball from Doucoure to break quickly with Mount feeding Ziyech and he blazed a shot over the bar when a cross might have been the better idea. Holgate redeemed himself with a good clearance as James from the right crossed low into the Everton penalty area, the pressure from the home side steadily increasing. On 29 minutes after a very steady and almost cautious build-up, a ball to Alonso saw him cross for Mount arriving in the area, Pickford again showing good reflexes and positioning to make the save.
Everton to their credit were not caving in to the Chelsea possession and closing down quickly in midfield were making the home side recycle and restart their attacking moves. A Chelsea corner on 35 minutes saw Simms head clear but, Chelsea came again and Rudiger somehow worked the ball through two defenders and into the path of Mount, Jordan Pickford again quick off his line to make an excellent stop and maintain the equilibrium on the scoreboard.
Into the final five minutes of the half and Everton were still holding Chelsea at bay, packing the midfield and closing down effectively to stifle their hosts. Good work by Gomes saw a rare Everton attack, releasing Godfrey down the left to cross into Doucoure who turned the ball back to Gordon for a shot that Mendy saved comfortably. Loftus-Cheek was booked for bringing down Doucoure as he started another Everton break, and two added-on minutes were signalled by the fourth official.
Nothing else transpired and it was Everton the happier as they retired for their slice of orange and cup of tea, after an organised and hard-working showing that had stifled and frustrated the home side.
Half Time: 0-0
No personnel changes by either manager for the start of the second half, and no doubt manager Benitez had told his side to keep up the effort levels and remain resolute in their defending.
Ziyech was hurt by an accidental coming together with Iwobi and needed treatment to his right ankle before being okay to carry on, whilst former Everton midfielder Ross Barkley warmed up just in case. Chelsea were huffing and puffing again and it took a good block by Holgate to deny a shot from Ziyech. Pickford with a fingertip save from Mount conceded a corner that saw Loftus-Cheek head over the bar from inside the six yard area.
Good defending again by Holgate denied Pulisic and Everton then defended a corner conceded by Kenny before a break involving Iwobi, Doucoure and Simms saw a speculative shot from Kenny rise too high to trouble Mendy in the home goal. Gordon jumped to win a header from a long ball from Pickford, the ball falling nicely for the onrushing Godfrey to scuff his shot low to the right of Mendy who fell on it easily.
A little bit of desperation was creeping into the play of Chelsea as Azpilicueta blazed over following a free kick swung in by James, and Pickford slowing play down at the resulting goal kick irritated the home support. Jorginho was rightly booked for a poor challenge on Jarrad Branthwaite as the teenager coolly brought the ball out of defence and Everton prepared their first change.
A Chelsea free kick after a harsh decision against Branthwaite saw James again send the ball to the back post where Rudiger failed, under pressure from Godfrey, to get a decent contact, and on 61 minutes, Lewis Dobbin replaced Ellis Simms in the first change of the night.
James and Pickford collided heavily as JP punched a cross away, neither being hurt and play continued with a handshake and smile between the two players. Andre Gomes was the second Everton player to see a yellow card as Chelsea prepared a double change, and on 64 minutes, Barkley replaced Loftus-Cheek while Alonso made way for Saul.
Gomes tried to set Dobbin free down the right flank only for the vastly experienced Thiago Silva to turn the ball safely back to Mendy. Evertonians raised teir voices as Dobbin tried to get something going on the edge of the Chelsea area and when they broke away, they struck with deadly effect, as James played a one two with Barkley to then feed Mount in space on the right and he gave Pickford no chance on 69 minutes – tough on Everton who’d defended so well to this point.
Manager Benitez reacted by withdrawing Gomes for Jean-Philippe Gbamin for the final twenty minutes. Gordon latched onto a loose ball only to have his heels clipped by James to give Everton a free kick wide left that Gordon himself took and swinging it to the back post, Jarrad Branthwaite arrived superbly to give Mendy no chance for a superb and coolly taken equaliser on 74 minutes.
Everton were clearly boosted and roared on by the travelling fans Gordon got down the left again to win a corner that saw Dobbin go down in the area and see yellow for a dive. Mount won a corner off Godfrey and Chelsea made their final change, Chalobah replacing Azpilicueta before Silva saw a fine header pushed around the post by Pickford, who then held a Rudiger header from the follow-up corner.
Ten minutes to play and could Everton keep Chelsea at bay and hold onto the point that they had worked so hard for through the first eighty minutes?
All the noise was coming from the Everton terraces as Holgate headed a cross from Mount to safety and Chelsea looked to build again to try and find a way through a resolute Everton rearguard. Branthwaite with a good clearing header from a Barkley corner found Dobbin, his progress brought to an end by a foul from James. The pace of Lewis Dobbin was causing Chelsea problems and twice he was unlucky not to force a real shooting opportunity.
Into the final minute of normal time and good work by Gbamin led to a foul on Doucoure and that gave Everton the chance to bring on Tyler Onyango for the excellent Anthony Gordon and five added minutes were announced. A good header from Keane on a cross from Mount found Dobbin and he got the ball long downfield to eat up some valuable seconds.
And Everton maintained their dogged and resolute resistance and as Everton fans roared their players on, the home fans booed their teams inability to break down the depleted visitors. An outstanding effort from Everton on the night, that’s the kind of spirit and determination we want every game.