Everton returned to winning ways after a gritty display against high flying Chelsea at Goodison Park.
In front of the 2,000 returning supporters, Everton put in one of their best performances in the season, restricting the visitors to very few clear cut opportunities and pressing with a unity and energy that had not been seen from The Toffees in many weeks.
Carlo Ancelotti reverted to a flat back four for the game, bringing Mason Holgate back into the fold at right back. It was an inspired decision, with the hosts appearing a lot more compact in the early stages of the match, repelling much that Chelsea’s attacking players had to offer. On the break, Everton posed a few threats but it was through direct play that Ancelotti’s side were at their most dangerous.
It was through such play that Everton made an early breakthrough. After a decent knock forward from Jordan Pickford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin flicked the ball on, causing much confusion in the Chelsea penalty area. The away side’s goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who has received much praise since his arrival at Stamford Bridge in the summer, came crashing towards the ball and brought the Everton number nine with a clumsy challenge. It was a clear penalty and presented Everton with an excellent opportunity to establish a foothold within the game.
Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up and calmly slotted to Mendy’s right to give Everton the advantage. Sigurdsson is a much maligned figure at Goodison Park, with many hoping this season will be his last in blue. Whilst huge question marks remain over his work ethic and stamina, one cannot question his composure in situations like that.
As the first half moved on, Chelsea began to regain some control, with a soaring strike from the bright Reece James crashing off Pickford’s left post. If Chelsea were to work themselves back into the game, they needed to work the ball quickly. For much of the first forty five, they were flat, passive and unwilling to really test what is an extremely fragile Everton defence.
At 1-0, however, the game remained finely poised.
Half time- Everton 1-0 Chelsea
The second half followed a very similar pattern: lots of Chelsea possession, little end product.
Everton must be applauded for their endeavour in this period. They chased every loose ball, won every collision and stopped the opposition from amounting any real pressure. And whilst Chelsea continued to show glimpses of quality, such as Mason Mount’s tremendous freekick which fired off the woodwork, Everton kept the visitors at bay and showed a willingness to defend their goal like their lives depended upon it, a characteristic that has been lacking throughout the season.
Credit must be given to a few members of Everton’s back four. Michael Keane was imperious as per, dominating an in form Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham later in the piece. Mason Holgate gave the right hand side a great structure, keeping the rampaging Ben Chilwell very quiet. And Ben Godfrey, one of the Toffees’ most underrated signings of the season, put in another exceptional performance, showing the pace, power and agility that has made him an integral part of Ancelotti’s defensive armoury.
Whilst the typical ‘it’s Everton, it’s bound to go wrong’ doubts continued to swirl in the final stages, Everton nullified much of Chelsea’s efforts. Bar a scrappy finish from Giroud, the visitors created very little and when the final whistle blew, no-one could deny the Toffees deserved their three points.
The man of the match? Whilst there were plenty of candidates on the pitch, the main accolade should be given to the 2,000 supporters in attendance. They generated a tremendous atmosphere, full of the buzz and bite that Everton historically thrive upon. If Ancelotti’s side are to regain their early season swagger, that support is going to be vital and helps control the unhealthy swings of momentum that have characterised Everton’s recent matches.
Whilst some surgery is required in regards to recruitment and tactics, the basis of a solid starting eleven is there at Everton. With a crowd of any number at Goodison, those limitations can disappear for a time and, as illustrated tonight, the Toffees can compete against some of the very best.
In sum, Everton with fans are something.
Full time- Everton 1-0 Chelsea