Everton tried to control Chelsea’s wide central defenders and central midfielders with their pressing (to block routes forward), maintaining strong positions to launch counters when the ball was won after being played forward into pressure, and pushing up in moments where they could isolate the player on the ball and close the distances from the middle.
Everton’s defensive setup started with the two strikers moving wide on Chelsea’s wide central defenders. This made it difficult for Chelsea to find their usual advancements with balls from Azpilicueta and Zouma, while also leaving space behind to attack if Everton recovered the ball. Chelsea really had to react strongly at the back in these moments to control Everton’s counters, with Christensen the last line of cover behind when one of the attackers broke behind — e.g.: Christensen stopping Richarlison in a 1v1 to prevent a clear chance on goal.
Andreas Christensen was once AGAIN ice cold.— The Chelsea Debate (@chelsea_debate) March 9, 2021
That challenge on Richarlison! ⛔️ pic.twitter.com/iRCC3zhRq6
Chelsea’s sitting midfielders were closed marshaled by Sigurdsson (on Jorginho) and Gomes (on Kovačić). This left Christensen as the spare man in possession, with Everton generally leaving him alone to play forward passes into pressure — in moments, Sigurdsson would try to catch him out, if the distances were close enough to press (Allan moving up to cover Jorginho).
Chelsea’s solutions were for the midfielders to drop into spaces and play through the pressure with short combinations and overloads, or finding the wing-backs in space when dropping deep for it (not always followed by Everton’s wing-backs and James especially able to carry to ball forward), or finding passes in front of or behind Everton’s back five.
Chelsea would often delay passes and hold the ball, using pass-fakes to move the opponents rather than always immediately playing passes into pressure and then having to drop back — holding the ball would see Everton dropping off and distances increasing.
Forward passes into the attackers provided the best opportunities to create as there was space ahead of Everton’s backline to drop for the ball and cause a them the classic ‘track the man or let him go’ dilemma. Allan would shuffle over to cover one of the front three dropping for the ball on occasions, but Chelsea’s frontline were able to pick the right movements to turn on the ball quickly to accelerate past their defender and then look for passes behind Everton’s backline (spaces opening up from the distances between the wing-back staying wide).
Havertz and Hudson-Odoi caused Everton a lot of problems showing their speed on the turn from here, while the rotation on the left between Alonso moving on the inside and one of the front three moving to the outside would create Chelsea’s opening goal. Alonso moving on the inside would also provide opportunity for Christensen (left free on the ball in midfield) to play a long pass behind for a 1v1 with Pickford later on in the half, only for Alonso’s effort to be saved.
Everton’s first change in the second half was to bring on Davies for Iwobi and switch to a 4-4-2 diamond. This change gave Everton the extra man in midfield to push up more aggressively from the middle (matching Chelsea’s numbers centrally) and press high.
This change opened the game up and made it much more intense, where Everton had the opportunities to win the ball higher up and start counters closer to Chelsea’s goal, but in doing so conceded a lot of space behind for when Chelsea escaped the pressure and broke through and could find the lines to play passes behind or between Everton’s back four. In finding these spaces Havertz (making a run behind) would get onto the end of Kovaćić’s pass to win the penalty to extend Chelsea’s lead to two.
Everton then switched to a 4-3-3, moving Calvert-Lewin into the middle and bringing on King to play on the right, giving them more speed to counter attack the spaces behind Chelsea’s backline if they won the ball. However, most of Everton’s possession with the ball would come with Chelsea dropping back to defend deep with numbers, and leaving the space for themselves to counter attack instead when winning the ball from Everton — where Chelsea had a number of opportunities to increase their lead (but failing to do so).
Without being able to play forward and get behind Everton on the outside, Chelsea had to play with composure under pressure through the middle and draw Everton forward to open spaces and change the speed of the game to break Everton’s pressure. The rotation of Alonso going inside from wing-back continues to be a unique quality that makes a difference in games. Chelsea continued to show good control to stop counters from turnovers and reduce chances for opponents to create, and with Everton switching to a diamond to play more aggressively in the second half Chelsea found the way through to extend their lead and maintain another clean sheet.