In a tantalising battle for a place inside the top four, Everton arrived with a swagger having narrowed the gap to just a point, while possessing a game in hand, after three successive wins.
Thomas Tuchel has overseen a remarkable resurgence at Stamford Bridge, avoiding defeat in 10 games, conceding just twice and guiding the Blues back into that coveted fourth spot. But an essential part of his remit has also been to energise and inspire the club’s most lucrative assets. And while Timo Werner has felt the love with glimpses of the razor-sharp striker that proved so deadly for Leipzig, Havertz is yet to sparkle under his compatriot, with tonight his first start since the first game of the Tuchel era, a drab goalless draw against Wolves.
But with the freedom to drift, as a false No 9, Havertz provided clear evidence he will emerge as a fundamental piece of Tuchel’s puzzle: dropping deep, spinning and proving adept in possession to keep the ball moving at pace to drag the Toffees all over the pitch.
There was an immediate connection with fellow left-footer Marcos Alonso, back in the side for Ben Chilwell, with the Spaniard eager to exchange passes and clip the ball into space to break Everton’s rigid shape.
The partnership worked beautifully after a tense opening, releasing Werner down the left, who forced Mason Holgate to barge him to the turf before he could enter the penalty area.
Both were unsurprisingly involved in the opener, pivoting off Callum Hudson-Odoi, who had retreated and wriggled free before sending a curling pass into space for Alonso.
Havertz’s timely run into the box had split Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey and his clean strike cannoned off the latter to cruelly deflect past the helpless Jordan Pickford. It was not to be a first league goal since October, against Southampton, but Havertz was certainly influencing the game more than anybody else.
Everton lacked ideas in response, predominantly pinning Dominic Calvert-Lewin to Kurt Zouma and working off the scraps from their brutal aerial duels.
Like a boxer whose opponent won’t adjust to their most effective punch, Tuchel’s side continued to attack the left flank. And this time the Toffees were unable to see Alonso’s sharp movement inside and beyond their high line. With Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin stretched as split strikers, Andreas Christensen enjoyed plenty of freedom, gliding out from the back before floating a ball in behind Mason Holgate. Alonso drove past him and looked ready to double the lead until Michael Keane emerged from nowhere to make a tremendous block.
Havertz’s graceful movement continued to cause havoc into the second half too, as he found space inside the box, controlled and finished strongly - only to be denied again after David Coote spotted the German cushioning the ball with his arm.
The Blues’ most effective way to penetrate sides keen to match their shape was on full display, tempting Carlo Ancelotti’s backline to step up and drop deep, teasing them by faking to play the ball between the lines to Havertz or over the top.
And Mateo Kovacic beautifully exposed a momentary lapse in discipline as Havertz spun in behind and clear of Godfrey, poking the ball around Pickford, who hauled the Germany international down. The grimace on the England No1’s face told the whole story, with Jorginho gleefully skipping and sliding the ball past him just a few minutes later.
Werner’s frustration in front of goal extended to agony after being denied one-against-one inside the box after nudging Godfrey off the ball, before squandering another glorious chance after being slipped in by Mason Mount.
Like Werner, Havertz’s goal must wait, but this was a promising sign towards the next phase of Tuchel’s exciting rebuild as he attempts to fine-tune his attack. Four points clear of fifth, Havertz has now emerged as the latest weapon at the disposal of the German tactician, who can currently do no wrong.
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