Everton were behind the eight-ball from the start with no recognised striker to call upon, and an injury to Ben Godfrey meant an early reshuffle at the back but, only succumbed to a first half injury time penalty from Jorginho.
A packed to the rafter Goodison saw Everton and Frank Lampard welcome Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel for the Saturday tea-time kick-off to the new season, and a campaign that every Evertonian hopes and prays doesn’t go the same way as last season.
Boosted by the 3-0 win over Dinamo Kiev and with two potential additions to the squad to be confirmed shortly, manager Frank Lampard had a major dilemma to deal with in who was going to lead the attack in the absence of the injured Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the suspended Salomon Rondon.
Speaking on Thursday, Lampard said of his striking problems, “Losing a player like Dominic, with his quality, in the week going into the first game is obviously going to affect you. I think we’re probably looking at around six weeks for the injury. I saw a lot of crazy rumours yesterday, but he’s been assessed over a couple of days and that’s where we’re at.”
He continued adding, “It comes with the territory of having a squad and training at this level. We’ll have to work around it. Other players will have to step up and do the job and hopefully that six weeks passes relatively quickly and we get Dominic back.”
Asked where the club were looking to strengthen further, he wouldn’t be draw when he responded, “I won’t speak about individual targets. We lost Richarlison, who was versatile across the front as well. I know we’ve brought in Dwight McNeil, but we’re very aware of the areas we want to strengthen. Going into the first game with Salomon suspended as well makes it pretty clear that I think that might be one of the areas we look at.”
Having also confirmed that Yerry Mina was fit and available for selection, many expected a back three to allow the fullbacks to support the midfield and provide width for whoever the boss entrusted to lead the line. And the questions were answered when the team sheet revealed a starting line-up of: Pickford (c), Patterson, Tarkowski, Mina, Godfrey, Mykolenko, Gray, Doucoure, Iwobi, McNeil and Gordon.
Chelsea travelled north after a somewhat mixed pre-season in terms of results, the starkest of which was a 4-0 trouncing by Arsenal in the Florida Cup, a performance that left manager Thomas Tuchel somewhat non-plussed at how easily his side had been outplayed by the Gunners.
Under new ownership, Chelsea have shown signs of their intentions to again be a serious contender for honours this season with three key additions in the shape of striker Raheem Sterling from Manchester City, central defender Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli and wing back Marc Cucurella from Brighton.
Tuchel already had a talent laden squad and even if Marcus Alonso leaves for Barcelona, the west London outfit will again be a force to be reckoned with in season 22/23.
In his press briefing Tuchel praised the new hierarchy at Stamford Bridge saying, “New ownership stepping straight into the transfer market is maybe one of the toughest things you can do when you come from outside but I have nothing but the biggest respect and compliments for both Todd and Behdad. I don’t know when they sleep, maybe they never sleep. We have a very open, honest and direct line of communication and the transfers so far speak for themselves.”
On the pre-season he noted, “to lose that game how we lost it against Arsenal, one of our big rivals in the league who is trying to take our place. It was a wake-up call for everybody and since then we stepped up. As always, the last week before the season is always the time where you feel a new focus and excitement, the legs are fresher. I think we’re not where we can be but let’s see. We feel ready and competitive for tomorrow. We had a very good training week so far and the atmosphere is back to where it was before the Arsenal game in the first weeks of pre-season.”
And looking forward to the trip to Goodison, he closed saying, “Liverpool and Man City showed that it’s possible to be very successful with a fluid type of offensive player in the number nine position. It can be Kai, it can be Raheem, it can be Timo Werner, it can also be Armando Broja who is now in the squad so different profiles and different ways of playing.”
And with that host of offensive weapons to call upon, he named his starting eleven: Mendy, Azpilicueta, Silva (c), Koulibaly, James, Kante, Jorginho, Chilwell, Mount, Havertz and Sterling.
On a pleasant evening, our referee was Craig Pawson.
McNeil drew an early foul Koulibaly but, a poor free kick from Gray was easily cleared before good work from Patterson gave McNeil a chance to cross, the glancing header from Doucoure going wide.
A harsh call against Tarkowski for a nudge on Sterling saw Pickford with a comfortable gather on a header from Havertz. Chelsea appeals for a high boot against Patterson fell on deaf ears before a moment of confusion at the back almost played Havertz in, Pickford and Godfrey, who was hurt in the collision, doing enough to mean only a corner ensued. Before the corner could be taken however, there was a long delay as Godfrey received treatment, a stretcher was summoned and Mason Holgate prepared to replace the stricken Godfrey.
As Godfrey headed for an ambulance, Holgate headed the first corner behind for a second and then he turned a shot from Mount behind for a third. Chelsea kept the pressure on but wasted a fourth straight corner and the Blues were able to head upfield on the goal kick.
A great cross from Gray was just too high for Gordon and was cleared by Koulibaly and the Chelsea counter led to Sterling and Mina clashing, the Colombian winning the free kick. A raking ball from Tarkowski saw Patterson find McNeil who found Gray to the Blues first corner that Chelsea only half cleared, Mendy acrobatically tipping a Tarkowski header over for a second corner that came to nothing.
Chelsea responded by getting forward to win another corner, Holgate again with a header behind for another that they wasted. Everton hit back with a terrific flowing move started by McNeil and ending with a Gordon header on a partially blocked cross from Mykolenko going wide.
A Chelsea break saw Mina and Iwobi ‘deal’ with Sterling in a manner that delighted Goodison, albeit at the expense of a free kick, that failed to produce anything. Clever footwork by Sterling saw him thread a ball through to Havertz, Mina blocking his low cross out for a corner that Holgate again headed behind and repeated the act for a third corner on the trot… and the Blues cleared and released Gordon for a diagonal run that saw him brought down by Koulibaly.
Another decent raid by the Blues saw Doucoure find Gordon in space on the right and he was unlucky not to get on the end of the cross… oh for a natural striker to be in the area.
Thiago Silva with a vital interception stopped Gray sending Gordon clear in on goal in a game that was high on intensity and effort Chelsea had a ‘goal’ ruled out for offside as Sterling netted following a fumbled save by Pickford from a shot by Kante. A lovely move involving Gray, Mykolenko and Iwobi saw Gordon into the Chelsea penalty area but Chelsea closed him down and a goal kick ensued.
Eight added minutes, for the injury to Ben Godfrey, were announced and Chelsea fashioned an attack that saw Tarkowski with a headed block on a Sterling shot and Chelsea won a late corner on their right, that Mina headed out as far as James and his shot was deflected behind for another, on the left, and that produced another from the right, that led to an easy save by Pickford.
Sterling again went down at the slightest of touches ahead of a clumsy challenge by Doucoure on Chilwell resulting in referee Pawson awarding Chelsea a very late penalty. Mina was booked for deliberately trying to unsettle Jorginho who kept his cool to send Pickford the wrong way.
This was harsh on Everton who without a recognised striker and having lost Godfrey, had competed well throughout the first half that in all fairness, with most of the possession, 12 corners to 2 and outshooting Everton 8 to 3, Chelsea had had the better of.
Half Time: 0-1
No changes by either manager for the start of the second half that saw Everton, as usual, attacking the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End of the grandest Old Lady of them all.
Patterson headed a James cross clear and a great ball from Uwobi found Gray, his shot from a tight angle being deflected behind for a corner that he himself took but, over hit to go out for a goal kick.
Doucoure, Gordon and McNeil combined to win another Everton corner, Chelsea surviving after a lovely cut back to Doucoure saw his shot balloon up conveniently for Mendy to gather gratefully. Gordon couldn’t react quickly enough to make the most of a cross from Doucoure played into space by McNeil.
James was rightly booked for his second bout of time wasting at a throw-in ahead of getting forward to win a corner after a fine tackle by Mykolenko. Approaching the hour mark, Dele Alli stripped off and replaced Dwight McNeil who got a very warm round of applause as he walked round the pitch edge.
A lofted ball from Mina found Mykolenko and he fired a first time volley wide of the target. Everton came again and Gray saw a centre blocked and cleared with Koulibaly going down and waste a few more seconds off the clock.
Chelsea made a double change on 64 minutes with Pulisic and Loftus-Cheek replacing Mount and Chilwell respectively. The almost inevitable injury to Mina came in the 67th minute and Frank Lampard immediately called for Ruben Vinagre to get ready, and he duly replaced the brittle Colombian.
Holgate to the overlapping Patterson and Dele Alli couldn’t make anything of the quick cross as Chelsea defenders converged upon him. Another double change by the visitors saw Cucurella and Borja replace Koulibaly and Havertz.
Fifteen minutes to play and could Everton fashion anything to reward their valiant effort while Chelsea looked to counter and a ball from Sterling to Loftus-Cheek saw him brought down just outside the area and Mykolenko yellow carded.
Chelsea won another corner as a combination of Mykolenko and Pickford denied them a second goal, England’s Number One safely catching the resulting set piece and try to get the Blues forward before play was halted for I know not what and a drop ball in Chelsea territory awarded.
James cleared a Patterson cross and Chelsea worked the ball forward to win another corner and waste more time before Pulisic hooked a shot high and wide. A foul by Pulisic on Vinagre gave the Blues a free kick on the left flank that Gray swung in as a further ten, yes ten, added minutes were announced.
Chelsea’s ‘game management’ (time wasting) tactics were in clear view as was their greater organisation and they were able to quell most everything Everton could muster.
Mason Holgate was another booking for the Blues for another rather innocuous challenge, the free kick for the visitors coming to nothing. Cucurella was booked for kicking the ball away and the last gasp free kick from Gray saw Mendy easily hold onto a Tarkowski header.
A tough result for the Blues as they battled hard throughout but, you cannot go into games at this level without at least one recognised striker, and a now desperate search for one must begin.