An ever-occurring theme at Chelsea this season is despite having a gargantuan amount of possession, teams who sit deep in a low block against us can suffocate the attack or even hit the Blues on the counter. Although the trend predates my writing for this prestigious website, games such as our Manchester United encounter at the Bridge comes to mind as a glaring example of this issue.
Everton have had an astonishing amount of injuries to their squad this season, to the point of making our recent misfortunes in that department seem minor. With senior players injured, what they lacked in aged wisdom was made up in vigor via youth last Thursday. Therefore, a few of the names listed in their starting XI were just gaining experience.
While mostly sitting very deep in a 5-4-1, if you search through enough outlets, you can find them listed in 3-4-3, 4-1-4-1, or even 4-3-3 as suggested by NBC’s broadcast. In any of these, they were heavily stacked with defensively-minded players.
Chelsea went with the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1. But due to most of our strike force testing positive for COVID-19, winger Christian Pulisic was deployed as center-forward.
While Pulisic has played the role before both for the US National team and for Chelsea, it is not ideal for him to be isolated up top. He was playing on defenders’ shoulders to stretch their line. But with Everton’s defense so compact, his efforts were only effective in spurts on the day.
The rest of the lineup essentially picked itself: Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been the mainstay for N’Golo Kanté in midfield, who was still not fully match-fit. And captain César Azpilicueta is still preferred at right center-back while Trevoh Chalobah returns to fitness, and Andreas Christensen figures out for whom he’d like to play next season.
Chelsea have started brightly in each of our last few games, and that would continue against Everton once the game was settled after a sloppy first five minutes. From the fifth to the eleventh minutes alone, we should have bagged at least one of our numerous chances and put some tangible separation between us and the visitors aside from our quality of play. Everton could barely string together a pass and we would come to rue these missed chances at full time.
The first 20 minutes of Chelsea against Everton:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 16, 2021
Shots on target: 4-0
Touches in the opp. box: 7-2
Utter domination from the Blues. pic.twitter.com/qfQbrAaP9y
The first of the missed chances, created by an exquisite run from Reece James, was one of a few displays in the early phases of the game where the pace and width we used would help or hinder our attack.
One of a multitude of Abdoulaye Doucouré turnovers on the day, finally resulted in Everton’s midfield opening up. There are three changes of possession prior to Jorginho taking over and opening up their right side for the first time.
Jorginho’s pass is wonderful, and James picks it up in stride.
His shot is uncharacteristic of the player, who still had a great game despite the miss. We would be left waiting for the breakthrough goal for quite a bit longer.
The best demonstration of how we were most likely to succeed against their parked bus defense was exhibited in the 11th minute. In the first moment, as Everton again sit off the ball and give Thiago Silva all the time to pick a pass, he works it wide right, from where the ball has actually just been cleared.
Reece James pulls the ball quickly back across the field and finds a wide-open and advanced Antonio Rüdiger with space.
Rather than a burst into one of his trademark runs, which is equally effective at exposing a deep block, he threads a pass to Hakim Ziyech.
The dummy on Ziyech’s turn exposes the space that a quick switch and progressive play can exploit and, although Pulisic’s backheel strike to finish off the play is not ideal, the movement in the final third was.
And while the early flow of the game would indicate we were on the ascendency, a combination of our failure to produce a goal and their tactical fouling, counter attacking, and good goalkeeping kept us off the scoresheet.
If you look at Silva’s positioning, you see how established we had become in their half. From such a position, final third needs to bear more fruit.
Disregarding the aforementioned chances, Chelsea were in on goal with a decent chance in the 25th, 29th, and 34th minutes. All of these sprung from quicker passing, taking the play out wide and then eventually coming central.
In the 36th minute, Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made another of his fine saves on the day, and we are again denied one of those chances that put our xG so high. After a corner and poor clearance, Mount finds himself 35 yards out with time and space.
He slides to Rüdiger, who had yet to retreat and had positioned himself inside the box — likely seeking another rash challenge and a gifted penalty. Instead, he slides in the most perfect dink to an onrushing Mount, only to be denied by a most excellent Pickford save.
Once again, despite a plethora of chances, we would find ourselves unable to find the back of the net before the half. In fact, compared to the games we have played at the start of this season, our lack of first half goals from fantastic chances would be grossly obvious.
We would be level at the break in nothing but the scoreline and points accrued — the second half would not change either of those facts.
Chelsea 0-0 Everton HT:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 16, 2021
Shots on target: 6-1
Pass accuracy: 90%-60%
But, no goal yet for Thomas Tuchel's men. https://t.co/yyhDOPzIqp
Our first chance would come off of the back of Ruben Loftus-Cheek — literally!
After easily outjumping Everton’s defenders on a corner that could have been one of many to both put us in the lead on the day, and on top of charts of goals from corners in the league, the midfielder mistimed his header to put the ball over the bar with his back.
Our play did diminish as the game wore on, perhaps due to unsuccessfully fielding Saúl Ñíguez in as many different positions as we are allowed subs in a game. And yet, we did find the back of the net in the 70th minute.
The breakthrough is made because the game opened up for one of the few times in the entire match. Doucouré carries forward in what could be a threatening counter from our loss of possession.
Silva, ever the sage defender, spies the attacker counting blades of grass and unaware of his multitude of outlet passes, and steps in to recover the ball. Doucouré’s teammates are both caught out for once and, humorously, visibly frustrated.
Reece James picks the ball up deep and central and while sending it forward to Ross Barkley, who is back in possession after rejoining the attack. Finally, with two in-form players done messing about, Mount finishes tidily from close range and we find ourselves, however briefly, in the lead.
Mason Mount's game by numbers vs. Everton:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 16, 2021
80.5% pass accuracy
7 crosses (most)
6 shots on goal (most)
4 shots on target (most)
1 chance created
And the youngest Blues man to score in four consecutive Premier League games. pic.twitter.com/nr0LvpirAI
While our academy produced our goal, theirs would follow suit. After a phantom foul is awarded, Everton had a great chance of levelling the game.
With the back-post overloaded, a delivery put on a platter, and Saúl proving himself as worthless on defensive headers as in general play, two Everton academy graduates in Anthony Gordon and Jarrad Branthwaite would combine to slip one past Edouard Mendy.
Our latest blip in the clean sheet radar.
Have Chelsea kept a clean sheet in their last six games across all competitions?— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 16, 2021
Tommy T’s defence is crumbling. pic.twitter.com/W4JzgiVPR2
While Silva would have a decent chance at the end of the game — and Chelsea would continue to play for the win —, the ineffectiveness of our substitutes and the minimal thrust provided by those left on wasn’t enough to get another goal and secure a direly needed three points.
Falling behind at this point, with the uncertainty of both the future of the league, our player’s health, and our fixtures, these are the points that make and break title-winning seasons... and we’re dropping them.
27 - Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 27 Premier League home games against Everton (W15 D12), equalling their longest ever unbeaten home run against an opponent in their league history (27 vs Spurs between 1990 and 2016). Streak. #CHEEVE— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 16, 2021
At least this streak continues!