Ruthless Chelsea beat tame Everton despite early struggles
Chelsea’s second half performance secured a huge win away at Everton and put the pressure on Tottenham ahead of their North London Derby clash with Arsenal.
The opening period promised an exciting game. Within a minute Everton were rewarded for a fast and energetic start when they created an aerial chance in Chelsea’s box. Minutes later Gary Cahill was on hand to block another dangerous effort that fell to a Blue shirt in the box.
Cahill was involved again a few minutes later when he found himself in possession in midfield. His teammates all ran wide, creating a channel for the defender to strike the ball at Maarten Stekelenburg.
Chelsea were at their most threatening early on too. Eden Hazard started brightly, making a dangerous run into the box to remind the home side of the threat of the table topping visitors.
As the game wore on however the tempo dropped and it became harder and harder for either side to create chances. N’Golo Kante’s first half was a mixed bag that would drag on into the second. He was often the only Chelsea player at a sprint, and he generated a lot of their threat with his pressing and intensity.
However all too often he missed the chance to turn those moments into goals by mishitting a pass or taking a heavy touch.
Marcos Alonso had several crossing chances in the first half but was unable to provide any quality, while on the far side his partner Victor Moses couldn’t get forward enough either.
Idrissa Gueye was shadowing Eden Hazard throughout and as the half wore on he was able to remove the Belgian winger from the game more effectively.
The only Chelsea player to really excel in a poor first half was Cesar Azpilicueta, who dealt with even the threat of Romelu Lukaku well, and made several important interceptions in Everton’s more dangerous spells.
Antonio Conte’s side kept their bad habits from the first half int the second. Kante continued to be sloppy with the ball, Matic made easy errors and Eden Hazard was quieter than ever.
For 15 minutes or so in the second half it looked as though Tottenham would be given even more incentive in the title race, with Everton looking better than Chelsea, whose forward players were very quiet.
Pedro had contributed well with busy defensive work and the occasional burst forward, and it was he who eventually made the difference with a wonderful strike. A rare competent attack saw the Spaniard pick up the ball on the edge of the box, turn and strike a beautiful left footed shot into the top corner.
Taking the lead opened the game up, and Everton put up a fight immediately. Hazard gave away a clumsy free kick on the edge of the box, and Azpilicueta lucky not to be sent off for arguing with the referee. Jon Moss had a poor game overall, allowing a lot of Everton attention on Eden Hazard and giving one absolutely inexplicable first half foul against the Belgian.
Chelsea sat deeper and deeper and it looked as though they were preparing to try and hold a narrow lead to the end, but on a rare foray forward they were rewarded with an unlikely goal.
Eden Hazard was brought down as he burst past the edge of the box and his assailant Idrissa Gueye finally booked. The Belgian stepped up to whip a low free kick in to test the shaky Stekelenburg, and who else but Gary Cahill was on hand to deflect the loose ball into the Everton goal.
At this point it looked like the Blues had won the game despite a not particularly convincing performance. A black spot on the second half was the removal of the injured David Luiz for Nathan Ake after the Belgian had soldiered with a hurt groin for far longer than expected. The icing was added to a win that ended up looking more comfortable than it ever was by Cesc Fabregas and Willian, the two substitutes who came on and wrapped the game up with a lovely exchange