A piece of Brazilian opportunism, just seconds into the second half, saw Richarlison coolly slot the Blues into a vital lead that they doggedly defended. And but for a bit of luck, they could have added to the score line that earned them a vital, vital three points and boy, how Goodison celebrated after the final whistle. But while Richy was headline grabbing at one end, some outstanding goalkeeping from the often maligned Jordan Pickford sealed the deal.
Another vital game for Everton saw them welcome Chelsea to Goodison Park knowing a victory and three points were a must irrespective of what had happened in the Watford vs Burnley game on Saturday. As it happens, that game went the way of the Clarets leaving the Blues knowing exactly what was required of them.
The Blues task though was likely to as tough as they come as the visitors arrived at the Grand Old Lady having won eight straight away games prior to their 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Thursday. Despite his 13 years as a Chelsea player, Blues boss Frank Lampard was keen to emphasise where his loyalties and priorities lie now when he said,“I have loved every minute of being at this club. Sometimes people outside the club ask me, ‘Are you enjoying it? How tough is it?’ And I tell them, I absolutely love it.”
He expanded saying,“I have been supported and welcomed incredibly well by the fans and will do everything to get this club back where I want it to be. In therms of my dedication to this job, I will absolutely give it everything for as long as Everton want me. Our fans are brilliant, they are passionate, the club is their life. It is important the players understand that, I certainly do!!”
Turning his attention to facing Chelsea and the players he will select his side from, Lampard advised, “Yerry Mina is back in the squad, him not playing last week was more being careful with him. Ben Godfrey will be out for a few weeks, it will be a close call whether he will play again this season. Dominic (Calvert-Lewin) is back in the squad too, he’s been training in the past couple of days.”
The Blues boss also confirmed that Andre Gomes and Donny van de Beek were not available for selection, along with Andros Townsend and Nathan Patterson, both out for the rest of the season. On a positive note, Lampard confirmed Tom Davies is back in training and working hard to try and contribute in the final weeks of the season.
Leaving it as long as he could, he eventually submitted his team sheet with a starting line-up reading: Pickford, Coleman (c), Mina, Holgate, Mykolenko, Iwobi, Doucoure, Adelphi, Gordon, Gray and Richarlison.
Chelsea, who many felt would pose a major title challenge this season especially after adding Romeu Lukaku to their striking options, won’t lift the Premier League trophy but, do seem odds-on certainties to finish third and in so doing guarantee another season of Champions League football next season. And considering the turmoil that beset them with benefactor Roman Abramovich deciding to sell up, and still not knowing who the new ownership will be, manager Thomas Tuchel and his players have kept their minds on their jobs to widen the gap between themselves and Arsenal in fourth.
In his pre-match press briefing Tuchel was asked about the amount of game time he has given to Mason Mount and Reece James, and he advised it isn’t to help them become established stars.“I don’t think Frank (Lampard) did it to them as a favour, I think every coach does it because it’s all about helping the team. It’s not about age in any direction. If Thiago Silva (37) can perform and help us, we don’t care about how old he is… and we don’t care how young somebody is. When you’re ready, you’re ready.”
As well as looking to tie up third place, Chelsea also have the FA Cup Final looming and Tuchel advised that Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic is back in training having missed three games. And he also advised Andreas Christensen and former Evertonian Ross Barkley were training again after injury and illness respectively. The return to Stamford Bridge for another former Everton player, Romelu Lukaku, hasn’t been as successful as either party would have liked and the Belgian seems set for a summer exit from the London outfit.
Tuchel chose not to take any risks with too many changes as he named his starting eleven: Mandy, Azpilicueta (c), Silva, Rudiger, James, Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho, Alonso, Mount, Havertz and Werner.
With Goodison in full voice for this crucial game, the home fans intent on turning the Grand Old Lady into a Grand Old Bear Pit, the man in charge of proceedings on the pitch was Kevin (oh boy, I need a) Friend.
Not a spare seat in the house and a fantastic reception at kick off saw Everton forward straight away to win a free kick for a foul on Gordon that he took and fired wide. Chelsea immediately booed, whistled and heckled… love it
Good tracking back by Gordon saw him win the ball off Alonso and earn great applause from a packed and fully supportive Goodison, that roared in anger as James felled Richarlison as he looked to breakaway on the right flank. A slow build up by Chelsea saw Havertz go down and Mount curl a 25-yard effort over the bar.
Everton worked the ball down the Park End and a cross from Iwobi saw Mina go down in the area, no penalty and if there was a VAR review, it was a very quick one. Through the opening quarter of an hour and A foul by Holgate on .Mount gave the vid a free kick on their right that James flighted straight into the grateful hands of Pickford and the quick Everton counter saw Gray ruled offside. The next Everton raid saw Rudiger crudely foul Coleman and he was rightly yellow carded. Chelsea were trying to play a controlled, more measured game but, Everton were working hard and trying to maintain a higher tempo. Chelsea won a right wing corner that was defended well by Doucoure and Gray to get the ball to midfield.
Gordon set Iwobi free on the right but Rudiger outpaced to get back and clear via Mandy and in turn release Loftus-Cheek who escaped the attention of Delph but, the Chelsea counter faltered on the edge of the Everton penalty area. Chelsea were now enjoying more possession and looking to stretch the Blues back line but, good pressing by the Blues effectively stymied them.
Havertz and Mina were spoken to be referee Friend after a coming together before Holgate on a foray forward found Mykolenko for a cross that Mendy gathered comfortably. Good work at the back by Doucoure and Iwobi looked to set Gordon away but, crossing halfway, he was fouled by Jorginho.
A slip by Rudiger saw Doucoure get in behind for a cross that Silva half cleared, Everton regaining possession and Gordon cutting off the right sent a low shot narrowly wide of the near post. Tom Davies and Jarrad Branthwaite took to the touchline to stretch their hamstrings and got a terrific reception ahead of Everton pressuring Chelsea and again raising the volume of support as players clashed, Azpilicueta having arguments with Delph, Doucoure and Jordan Pickford who came out of his area to act as peace keeper. The nett result was a yellow card for Mount.
A great chase by Richarlison saw him rob Rudiger in the corner but Chelsea smothered the Blues and worked the ball clear. Havertz was fortunate not to see yellow after he slipped, handled the ball and deliberately prevented the Blues from taking a quick free kick.
Into the final five minutes of the half and Werner, found by Loftus-Cheek, was excellently tackled by Coleman as he lined up a shot. Doucoure had a shot charged down as two added minutes were signalled. Fabian Delph was booked for a foul on Mount and that saw us to the break with the honours still even.
Half Time: 0-0
Chelsea replaced Jorginho with Kovacic for the second half that saw Everton, as they traditionally prefer to do, attack the Gwladys Street End. And the perfect, perfect start as Azpilicueta dallied and under pressure from Richarlisonand Gray slipped and our Brazilian ace coolly slotted the ball beyond Mendy with barely thirty seconds played… cue pandemonium, deafening noise and clouds of blue smoke.
Roared on, the Blues attacked again and Doucoure fed Mykolenko who saw his rising shot go wide. Chelsea pushed forward to win a corner on the right that saw Iwobi clear to midfield. The visitors came again and a flighted cross by Silva won another corner that came to nothing, and Goodison turned up the volume again.
Anthony Gordon wasted a free kick after Silva brought down Richarlison and Mykolenko was a tad lucky not to see yellow after bringing down Loftus-Cheek on a charge through the midfield. An incredible moment saw a shot from Mount brat Pickford, hit both posts and then fall for Azpilicueta who couldn’t miss except for an outstanding save for the England keeper as he recovered his line.
The resulting corner saw Pickford again with a superb save to deny Rudiger from close range, getting hurt in the process along with Mykolenko but preserving the Blues advantage. From the corner, Everton broke away and Richarlison, released by Doucoure, won a corner, that Chelsea smuggled to safety as the Gwladys Street howled for handball by James.
Rudiger fired a long range effort well over the target as we passed the 65 minute mark and lots of passing led to an Everton goal kick that saw Chelsea make a double change: Pulisic and Ziyech replacing Azpilicueta and Werner respectively.
Holgate cleared a Chelsea free kick and Allan entered the fray on 70 minutes replacing Fabian Delph who received a standing ovation for his efforts. Richarlison forced James into conceding another corner on the left that saw Richarlison hurt and he needed treatment for what looked like cramp in his right thigh after Chelsea sportingly put the ball into touch.
Despite rejoining the play, Richy looked a tad uncomfortable. Chelsea saw Mykolenko steer a free kick behind for a corner that was cleared long downfield. It was heater- smelter stud now as Pickford acrobatically turned a Loftus-Cheek drive behind for a corner and Everton sent on Salomon Rondon for Richarlison with a little over ten minutes left in normal time.
More nonsense between Mina and Havertz saw the Chelsea forward booked and Goodison reacted as Gordon appeared manhandled off the field by James and the referee waved play on. Everton again pressed forward down the left and it led to a Gray curling a shot just over the bar. Doucoure, Rondon and Gordon worked the ball down the left, and a cross from Gordon went through the Chelsea six yard area untouched.
Goodison was now almost entirely on its feet urging the team on for the final minutes that saw Gray hurting defending and a break seeing Gordon force Mendy into conceding another Everton corner.
An incredible SEVEN minutes of added time were announced as Everton looked to bring Dele Alli on. Pickford going down low to his left denied Kovacic and he gleefully ate up a few seconds after claiming a cross. Dele Alli duly replaced Demarai Gray. Chelsea were pouring forward in search of an injury time equaliser but, Everton were defending gallantly. A foul by Alli gave them a free kick that saw an offside flag greeted with loud cheers and Holgate saw yellow for time wasting.
A great effort by a Rondon worked more valuable time off the clock and the roar that greeted the final whistle signified the unabashed relief of a fantastic crowd effort and a terrific team performance too.