League champions Chelsea visited Goodison Park on Saturday for the early kick off. They didn’t look it. They weren’t allowed to look it. Grey skies, punctuated only by a plane towing a banner stating ‘your failures are your legacy’ aimed at Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, greeted fans outside the ground, whilst the Beatles sung ‘Can’t buy me love’ over the PA system inside.
The stage was set. The same media who’d treated Chelsea’s pursuit of John Stones with a personal obsession were waiting. Not even BT Sport turgid trio of Michael Owen, Owen Hargreaves and David James could dampen the appetite of fans and neutrals alike. Would the Everton team be steamrolled by Chelsea in a way their boardroom had not allowed over the course of the previous month? Or would a side playing four central midfielders (joined in their deeper role by a striker. A striker without cartlidge in his knees). Surely not.
Anyway, before all of that, let’s start at the beginning, you impatient lot.
The average positions are telling, as always. Except for blue 17: Muhamed Besic, who was substituted early for Steven Naismith. We’ll have to use our imagination as to where Naismith’s icon might have been. I like to think of him being close to the Chelsea goal. Or down near the Park End giving Branislav Ivanovic the kind of snidey kick you’d like to imagine yourself giving, should you have ever had the opportunity. McCarthy and Barry were back to their marauding best, frequently hunting as a pair and breaking up play- like a modern day Reid and Bracewell. Only not. And how important the contributions of McCarthy and Barry were, given the central congestion of Chelsea’s attacking players. Deserving of a special mention is the isolated Brendan Galloway who was superb. Defensively sound, he managed to get forward and offer some width against the vastly experienced Branoslav Ivanovic, who will not have enjoyed his afternoon facing the youth and enthusiasm of Galloway. A centre half, filling in as an emergency left back, besting the hugely decorated Serbian (twelve years his senior), as he made his return from injury. Lovely stuff.
Before the game, the worry from an Everton perspective was the lack of width in the Everton side, especially up against the width offered by Eden Hazard and summer signing Pedro. In the last home game against Manchester City, Galloway was at times left exposed and caught out of position by the movement and skill of the City players:
And early on there was a warning that this may have been the case again:
Barely a minute in and Galloway has followed Pedro from his left back position, the Spanish international intentionally dragging Galloway out of position as Ivanovic bombed forward. Hazard (in possession) being the boss, slippery little nuisance he is, manages to turn away from pressure and find Ivanovic in space with Galloway struggling to get back to cover:
A poor Ivanovic cross meant this came to nothing, but it’s being mentioned because Chelsea didn’t really manage to manipulate another ‘opportunity’ like this again for the rest of the game. Galloway was more disciplined in his marking- in the areas he was prepared to follow his man, and his timings- a not inconsiderable task, given the fluidity and movement of Pedro up against him. Growth before our eyes of a very promising player with a bright future in royal blue (sound familiar?). Credit also to the rest of the Everton defence, porous at times this season, it stood up to a Chelsea side teaming with attacking talent, albeit a side yet to really hum. Don’t worry about Mourinho’s post-match comments (as if you would): Everton scored more and did deserve to win on the balance of play. Chelsea’s stats are plumped by a series of long range shots that you don’t mind them having, such was their frustration at their inability to break down the resolute toffees.
The game ebbed and flowed for a little while before the unexpected turning point. Besic would appear to tweak/strain his hamstring and would be replaced, but not before being allowed back onto the pitch by our medical team. Audible grumbles greeted the substitution: a bench that included Gerard Deulofeu, Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon (amongst others), was spurned for the fiesty Scot. Martinez could’ve chosen to start any of them, but had opted for the industry of Besic, having (presumably) worked on a specific game plan to counter a Chelsea side brimming with stars- so many stars, they have thirty professionals on loan: food for the thought for any (young) player tempted to join, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see the Everton manager swap energy for energy- as frustrating as that may have been for some at the time.
Fifteen minutes in and Everton took the lead. Phil Jagielka, superb throughout, eased the impotent Diego Costa off the ball as he looked to break:
Turning from inside his own box, Jagielka would start a move culminating in Naismith heading home from inside the Chelsea box. Nineteen passes would come in between, including twice finding the feet of Tim Howard. ‘BOOOOO! GET IT FORWARDS!’. Brendan Galloway managed to turn the tables on Pedro in the run up to the goal…
Galloway has managed to draw Pedro out toward him before playing the ball inside to Barry. The ball would be worked on to Naismith who would turn sharply, sending Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel to the stand for a Bovril in the process, and play the ball wide to Galloway- who had made a run in behind Pedro. Ivanovic was unable to stop the cross. Just as Galloway had made a clever move following his pass to Barry, Naismith had made a run between Zuma and Terry, Galloway did the rest, a cross too tempting to miss and Naismith obliged. From box to box, nineteen passes- involving nine of Everton’s eleven. A goal of serious quality: not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing in some ways, but I doubt Roberto Martinez could be happier at how the goal unfolded. A goal cast in his vision, “we play it from the back…” As the song goes. With goals like that, The School of Science is indeed on its way back.
From a sad, technical point of view, Ivanovic didn’t do a particularly good job of getting close to Galloway to stop the cross- a reason for this?
He had his hands behind his back. Obviously worried about giving away a penalty should the ball strike his arm, it becomes so much harder to shift your weight and react. Not that we were complaining, but remember that point.
A couple of minutes later and it could have been 2-0. A pacy, direct counter attack culminated in a good ball into space from the much improved James McCarthy for the galloping Seamus Coleman, who managed to dig a left footed cross into the box for Arouna Kone. The Ivorian’s glancing header brought a top, diving save from Asmir Begovic in the Chelsea goal. Everton at their best: having chosen their moment to strike for a 1-0 lead after patient play, mixing it up and playing with pace that left Chelsea helpless. From the resulting corner, James McCarthy would force Begovic into another save with his rasping drive from distance, confidence abound at a buoyant Goodison.
We didn’t have long to wait for the second. Diego Costa, managed to bundle over skinny nineteen year old Galloway deep inside the Everton half, giving away a foul in the process (not sure he agreed with the decision, but that was difficult to determine from his body language on award of the free kick). Jagielka lumped the ball forward toward Kone on the half way line- again, a willingness to mix our play up a bit. The ball broke free on the opposite flank and Lukaku did well in a tight space to turn away from two Chelsea defenders in front of Jose Mourinho: lovely. Lukaku then played it up the line to Kone who flicked the ball back inside to Lukaku who had space to attack. James McCarthy then played a crucial role in the goal…
McCarthy, having offered himself for a pass from Lukaku on the half way line (before he turned to pass to Kone) then sprints past the ball straight for the space occupied by John Terry (McCarthy and Terry circled in blue). Terry is then unable to leave the space being attacked by McCarthy which means that once Lukaku has managed to carry the ball far enough to commit Obi Mikel (circled in yellow) he can feed the ball to Ross Barkley- just out of shot at this time, and Everton then have a genuine three on three against an exposed Chelsea back line. This just isn’t possible without the unnoticed(?) run of McCarthy off the ball.
Kurt Zouma (to the left of the circled Ivanovic) is looking over his shoulder to check the movement of Lukaku and doesn’t want to vacate his space to help cover the man with the ball, and we’ve now got the badly out of form Ivanovic isolated against Naismith who would lash a beauty past Begovic with his left from distance. And the point about the hands?
Arms behind his back not able to move, not challenging the ball and head turned away. A checklist of how not to defend from Branislav Ivanovic. 2-0 Everton. Chelsea’s defence, paralyzed by the pace and movement of the Everton attack, helpless.
Twenty five minutes in and the first Chelsea chance of note came, a chance unerringly similar to a moment in our previous game versus Spurs:
Kone, not used to the defensive work required from his current role switched off and allowed a simple run in behind him that left us exposed. John Stones covered for him then and he did again against Chelsea…
Coleman has followed Hazard (both circled) to try to stay tight and deny him room to turn, happy in the knowledge Kone- now behind him, is in a good position beside Cesar Azpilicueta. As the play goes on, Kone switches off and drifts from Azpilicueta who is afforded a run at goal as the ball is played his way
only for John Stones to cover for the Ivorian. You can see from Coleman’s outstretched arms his disbelief at the way the chance unfolded for Chelsea, and would go on to gesture for Kone to ‘think’ once the danger had been cleared. Stones was superb throughout (as were most of the team) but it comes so easy to him. Confidence beyond his years, he carries the ball past players with such ease: it’s reminiscent of my old PE teacher joining in football in infant school, gliding past Costa and the rest like they were fat, key stage 2 kids in ill-fitting gym pumps. When Roberto Martinez talks about arrogance on the ball- here he is- John Stones embodies the approach his manager demands. Magnificent. But here, the bread and butter of his game, in front of his own goal- he keeps calm and sweeps up the mess of others. He’s going to be the best around, and who better to witness his majesty than the side that valued him so highly, their opening bid was (by contemporary standards) a paltry twenty million pounds. Ninety excruciating minutes the traveling Chelsea party had to watch John Stones for. Lovely stuff.
Everton, rampant, were inches from a great chance for three. Defending each Chelsea corner with ease, Lukaku was left on the half way line to spring the break and the plan almost bore fruit for 3-0 before half an hour gone:
Lukaku has won the flick on, nodding it into the path of Kone who has space ahead of him. A good, firm first touch from Kone puts Chelsea on the back foot
Lukaku heads for goal and the attack is joined by the tireless Coleman and McCarthy. As Kone drops the ball into Lukaku’s path, the ball runs just inches too far in front of the Belgian who would have had a clear shot at goal for 3-0
As the ball ran across Lukaku’s path, the chance went with it, but Chelsea were rocking at this point. 3-0 would not have flattered Everton, creating chances at will.
Before the half time whistle came, Chelsea would have a few shots from distance, most were blocked by good, tight Everton defending, but Nemanja Matic’s long range whopper would fly past Howard for 2-1. You might be able to make a case to say Matic should have been closed down quicker, but you’ve just got to hold your hands up and say it was a superb strike, which threw a new light on the second half to come.
The second half started quietly enough, a jinking Barkley run on the edge of the Chelsea box before he was crowded out the only real moment of skillful play, before the games most controversial moment…
Gareth Barry would win the ball for Everton, as he had all afternoon. Not only did he play a part in stifling Chelsea’s potent attack in central areas with his intelligent positioning, he won five tackles, more than anyone else on the pitch. In Everton’s two best performances of the season to date (against Southampton and Chelsea) Barry has been excellent. No- he isn’t quick, and no, he can’t turn very quickly but he hasn’t had the credit he deserves so far this season. Consistently top of the distance covered stats, he fights fires for the team all over the pitch and is the oft heard of ‘link between defence and attack’. He is a master of his art, he just happens to be in the winter months of his football career. His performances last year weren’t up to his standards, but if you spend the match moaning at him for not being quick enough (something he can’t do anything about) you need to wonder whether it’s worth ruining your weekends coming and watching him every other week. Rant over.
Barry released Lukaku, who would strike firmly at goal…
As Begovic palmed the Lukaku drive, Rom followed in, trying to get to the ball between Terry and Begovic. With Rom pressuring Terry and Begovic seemingly waiting for Terry to deal with it, there was a genuine chance of Lukaku causing some havoc- Terry would nudge the ball back to Begovic- in plain sight of the referee, and his linesman, and the Goodison crowd, who made their displeasure heard. Fortunately, we wouldn’t be made to rue the non-decision.
Chelsea were pressing for an equaliser, but Everton were relatively comfortable. Whenever Chelsea did have Everton exposed, some good scrambling defence kept Chelsea from scoring…
In this picture, Chelsea have hit Everton on the break and worked the ball to Costa. Circled is McCarthy who has scrambled back and come across the body of Costa, forcing him inside toward Jagielka. Costa’s touch was heavy and Jagielka was able to snuff out the danger. Everton wanted it more. McCarthy wanted it more. He was superb alongside Barry, and this chance was a real threat until McCarthy forced Costa into an extra touch.
Everton would continue to be fairly comfortable right up until full time. But not before Steven Naismith bagged his third. Another nice goal from Everton, although only thirteen passes for this one, which by our own standards is probably more akin to Stoke circa 2010. The thirteenth pass coming from Ross Barkley who already has more assists than he did the whole of last season. His nonchalant dink into the path of Naismith summed up his renewed confidence, back playing with the swagger of two years ago. When Ross is on blob, we can be frightening. Thankfully he isn’t being forced out wide this year, and the results are clear. Nobody touched the ball more for Everton than Ross Barkley, and while we’re giving him the ball in the right areas, giving him options as Naismith did, and not denting his confidence with the outrageously high demands placed on him by some, we’ll win more than we lose.
3-1 it would finish. You could’ve handed the man of the match award to almost any of them, we made Chelsea look ordinary: there is no higher praise than to make the defending champions look vastly inferior. Stick yer Costa’s, Hazard’s, Pedro’s and Cesc’s: we’ve got a diamond called Ross Barkley. And Steven Naismith to come off the bench.
Coming away from the Watford game, I spoke about the two points dropped: how two points was the difference in a league place by the end of the season last year. But, after the poor first half against Watford, we’ve quietly made this a decent start to the season. We didn’t play particularly well against Spurs, but we got a point at a difficult away ground. We lost to City, but who’d bet against them finishing top this year? We actually played fairly well against City, just that they were boss. Onto Swansea now, and the danger of rising expectations may just be back upon the shoulder of Roberto Martinez and his side.
As always, you can find me on twitter for more nonsense at: @EvertonMusings