In the first half, Chelsea created a number of opportunities to score through crosses into the box.
In the opening twenty minutes, Everton were higher up defensively, and trying to pressure Chelsea from midfield, but Chelsea were able to find forward passes to the front three between lines or in space. Upon receiving the ball between the lines, they could either dribble away from pressure or make quick passes between each other before finding a pass wide to a wing-back (space wide since Everton’s backline would have been drawn narrow to Chelsea’s front three), before playing an early cross into the box—where Chelsea’s offensive players could attack the ball at speed and the opposite wing-back would have space beyond the far post (quick shots from Alonso).
If Chelsea were unable to play forward as quickly (with Everton’s backline dropping earlier towards their own box) they could draw pressure on the one side of the pitch before switching and looking to play crosses, or finding Pedro, Willian, and Hazard moving wide to try to create on the wings with dribbling and combinations.
Since the latter type of attack took longer to develop (Chelsea taking more time to get into a crossing position), Everton could get more players back into the box. But Chelsea could also have Bakayoko and Alonso inside the box to compete for the header. A Hazard cross from the right created a great chance for Bakayoko, Alonso, and Willian inside the box—only for all three of their shots to be blocked.
still can't believe this didn't go in pic.twitter.com/ufWtqTCH3I— amadí (@amadoit__) December 23, 2017
Chelsea also created several chances that fell to Pedro. Passes to feet in and around the box saw him make use of his ability to quickly set himself to shoot before defenders could get close to him or in line of his shot to make blocks, as well as one opportunity where Everton tried to play forward into central midfield and Chelsea were able to counter thanks to the power of both Kante and Bakayoko to win the ball, with the latter carrying the ball forward before finding Pedro for a 1v1 against Pickford.
Later in the half, Everton began to create better opportunities to pressure the ball inside Chelsea’s half.
Everton played long to Calvert-Lewin running the channels when they won the ball deep, often against Azpilicueta to use his physical advantage, which caused some problems but Chelsea were able to control most of these. Long from goal kicks, however, were more successful for Calvert-Lewin (up against Azpilicueta in the air) as they could support him with Lennon, Davies, and Sigurdsson around the ball—as well as support from the central midfielders and the backline pressing forward from behind.
When Everton were able to keep the ball from long play, they could look to create chances with passes behind the defence and in wide areas, as well as having numbers forward to regain the ball if lost and Chelsea tried to counter through pressure.
Towards the end of the half, Chelsea began playing more to the wings, with Alonso moving inside early and Pedro or Willian staying on the outside, which didn’t bring them much success. Forward passes between the lines didn’t have the same support to keep the ball and play forward, while Everton closed the first pass to the wings well—both near side and switches. Chelsea’s only means of creation towards the end of the half were Hazard dribbling past multiple opponents or Kante getting the ball with space in midfield to draw players towards him and find forward passes to the wing-backs, as well as attempted passes into the box for Pedro running behind Everton’s backline.
Second half changes
At halftime, Everton made a double change to bring on Williams and Sandro for Lennon and Davies. This changed their characteristics at the back, gave them more quality on the pitch, provided extra support in attacks, and improved their defending in midfield.
For defending deep, it gave them three central defenders to win the first ball into the box every time, as well as more prominent players wide to cover Chelsea’s wing-backs. Instead of Lennon or Sigurdsson having to drop back to help cover (which Lennon especially did not do very well), Kenny and Martina were able to be closer to their Chelsea counterparts, while also doing well in their 1v1s (especially Martina). With support for Everton’s wing-backs now coming from central midfield instead of the wingers, Sigurdsson was also freed up for attacks.
The switch did come at a cost during crosses, where, when the central midfielders were moved to the side of the cross, there would be space on the far side edge of the box consistently throughout the half. Pedro had a chance from this position early on (forcing another save) while all of Chelsea’s attackers found themselves in this space throughout, only to not be found or closed down quickly by Everton’s defenders.
Before the change, Everton were finding themselves open in midfield pressing since Lennon would push up on the right, Sigurdsson would pressure Azpilicueta by moving inside from the wing, and their three central midfielders would have to cover a lot of space to the sides, ahead and behind them—so Chelsea could open up passing lanes just by passing the ball around the backline and central midfield. After the change, Everton had Sigurdsson pushing up in the middle with both Calvert-Lewin and Sandro narrow either side of him to pressure Chelsea’s backline. As Chelsea moved to the side, their nearside wing-back would be deeper and covered by Everton’s wing-back, while Hazard, Pedro, and Willian would now be looking to receive passes closer to Everton’s screening midfield two (Schneiderlin and Baningime) ahead of their backline, who were often able to intercept forward passes.
Everton showed further improvement in winning the ball and pressuring Chelsea from midfield. Playing long into the corners now made use of Sandro, who could keep or pressure the ball in the corner (with wing-back support from behind). Sigurdsson would move to wide areas, which helped work crosses for Sandro and Calvert-Lewin in the box. Losing the ball would create moments of high pressure from Everton, earning multiple turnovers in Chelsea’s half.
After Everton’s best period of the match, Chelsea the switch to 352 by bringing Fabregas on. Since they couldn’t play forward passes between the lines anymore, the change in approach allowed them to progress more consistently into Everton’s half by using the front two, Fabregas, and Bakayoko to look to receive the ball on the outside of Everton’s central midfielders—ahead of the wing-backs—and have both Alonso and Moses high to pin their backline deep. In doing so, Chelsea could establish long periods of high possession in Everton’s half, find Moses often, and put balls into the box from the outside of Everton’s central midfielders, and the wings.
Moses receiving the ball consistently on the right was important since he could hold the ball and allow Chelsea to move into the box, but Martina did an excellent job in stopping him both on dribbles and crosses—especially since Martina was on a yellow card and defending 1v1.
Being deep for long periods made Everton’s long play up the channels weaker, as Sigurdsson was more often acting as a third midfielder rather than being able to join the wings as a third attacker, the wing-backs were too deep to support in time, and the passes were often played with too much weight, missing their outlets. Their only chances came late on from winning two set pieces, with Keane missing a free header from a corner.
Chelsea continued to play in and around Everton’s box, but their crosses into the box where consistently won and cleared away, and their shots were consistently getting blocked. Jagielka just by himself had 5 blocks and 14 clearances.
A frustrating result for Chelsea, with plenty of wasted chances. They caused Everton a number of problems from midfield in the first half, before the change to 352 in the second half allowed them to sustain attacks around Everton’s box. It was the best performance by Everton against Chelsea since Conte has been the head coach, earning a first point even if they failed to score once again.