Without Pulisic, Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi, playing in a 4-3-3 was always going to be a concern for Chelsea. Their possession during the early stages saw a mix of breaking through Everton’s midfield lines from deep — through Kovačić and Mount dropping to release Kanté to break forward with the ball from deep — trying to combine on the right to get crosses into the box, and direct long balls over the top from midfield by the defenders.
With Kanté breaking through, the main issue was keeping the ball upon the forward pass. The wingers came inside and made early runs beyond Giroud or to where they would receive to feet under pressure. When the pass was made to Giroud, there would be little support for layoffs (midfielders dropping to release Kanté) or possibility to turn on the ball to make passes behind, with close pressure from Mina. Passes to the wings in these situations would also have the problem of the wingers not having the qualities to hold the ball consistently under physical pressure — the poor performance of Havertz adding to the issues.
Attacking in broken play is much more suitable for this Chelsea lineup, where they are able to attack at speed and exploit spaces with and without the ball. Creating an open game could be a risk against an Everton with two deep midfielders that are more than capable of recovering and fighting for loose balls, along with the threat of counters, but such conditions are what suited the offensive players in this formation, and the reaction to recover the ball from Everton’s counters was excellent throughout.
Adding to Chelsea’s problems, Everton were creating opportunities through fast combinations against Chelsea’s deep defensive block, and they would go on to win a penalty from Mendy’s error to have a lead to defend. With Chelsea’s creation coming predominantly from crosses, Everton were excellent at preventing Chelsea getting behind on the wings and always defended in numbers inside the box to clear the crosses that went in — suitable for the characteristics of their defenders. Set pieces again gave Chelsea chances to score after going behind, but you cannot expect to score from them in every game.
Everton (1.2 inc. 1 Pen) 1 - 0 (1) Chelsea pic.twitter.com/dSYuG3erBF— Crab Stats Graphics (@CrabStats) December 12, 2020
The second half continued in a similar way, where Everton could defend deep with a lead to hold onto and then look to hit Chelsea with counters.
Sigurdsson found spaces between lines and moved the ball quickly to create good opportunities during these counters, making use of a powerful front three to run into spaces and carry the ball forward at speed. However, Chelsea’s recovery from these counter attacks was excellent, and in particular from the fullbacks to match Everton’s wingers physically and recover the ball aggressively. Very few attacks found their way through to Chelsea’s box and when they did, the shots were dealt with.
On the other hand, Chelsea had the same issues in attack without any real options from the bench to change the game, while playing with the same formation. Barkley typically showed his worth from such situations last season, where his runs into the box from crosses would generally have an impact on the game and make a difference from the bench, but without such options, the change cannot and must not be in player characteristics, but rather in formation.
For instance, switching to a back three with Azpilicueta on (either 3-5-2 or 3-4-3) would’ve given Everton more problems defending with two crossers from Chelsea’s right, rather than going with three strikers and hoping to get enough balls into the box from the fullbacks, and in turn could draw more Everton players froward in pressing to open up spaces between lines to exploit. Another factor in favor of wing-backs against a team with physical central defenders as fullbacks is to draw them out into positions they are less used to, to open up spaces on the wings, and to not always face them in 1v1’s where they can make use of their physical characteristics.
Instead, Chelsea continued going with the 4-3-3 until the end with a number of balls into the box, but Everton’s deep defending kept them out.
A difficult game for Chelsea without the creative wingers and against a very physical team. The Blues struggled to create against Everton’s deep defending, while giving away a penalty to hand them a lead to hold onto for the remainder of the game. Chelsea’s defending of Everton’s counters was excellent to maintain control of the game defensively, but without being able to make a difference via substitutions, Chelsea couldn’t find a solution on the field to break Everton’s defence.