Another point taken from one of the Premier League's top clubs, another clean sheet from a much-improved defence and another game unbeaten. That will be what the Everton manager Sam Allardyce focuses on after successfully holding Chelsea to a goalless draw, even if his own side did not record a shot on target.
As at Anfield earlier this month, Everton resigned themselves to sitting deep, staying organised and hoping that up front, they would be enough scraps to feed on for a festive feast. It was not the type of approach many around Goodison Park envisaged when the club was spending north of £140million on new players during the summer, but Allardyce would argue it is one that the club’s calamitous start to the season has made necessary.
In fairness to him, it has worked twice now and of the two managers, only Antonio Conte was disappointed with the final scoreline. Again, his Chelsea players looked somewhat below the level we from them saw last season. Again, they lacked the knack of finding a goal in tight games, that rare and ultimately unsustainable quality that propelled them to the title.
Perhaps the final scoreline is no surprise given that both teams were arguably without their most natural goalscorers. Conte could not call upon the suspended Alvaro Morata while Allardyce was made to do without the recently-rejuvenated Wayne Rooney, scorer of six goals in his last five games but ruled out with the flu. Ashley Williams and Mason Holgate had come down with the same bug but only dropped to the bench.
Phil Jagielka was one of Everton’s enforced three changes to come in for Everton and Goodison Park had him to thank for preventing an early Chelsea opener. Starting for the first time since November’s 4-1 defeat at Southampton, the veteran placed himself behind Jordan Pickford as a game of pinball broke out in the penalty area then beat two goal-bound efforts off the line in quick succession, denying both Tiemoué Bakayoko and Willian.
Chelsea, on top from the start, attempted to turn the screw after those two opportunities and set up camp on the halfway line, hoping Eden Hazard’s guile as a false nine would create the openings needed to break through their hosts’ defence. Everton, however, would not play ball - quite literally. As the possession stats soared in favour of the visitors, peaking at a 74-26 split, Allardyce’s side won a tackle here, made an interception here and always just about cleared their lines.
They were by no means comfortable but with their backs firmly pressed against the wall for the remainder of the first half, Everton prevented Chelsea from creating any chances as good as the two that Jagielka had cleared. Pedro momentarily found time and space to shoot from an angle in the closing stages of the opening 45 minutes but Pickford acrobatically palmed his powerful effort over the crossbar.
Allardyce attempted to ease the pressure on his side by making a double substitution at the break, introducing Williams and Sandro Ramirez, but it did not have the desired effect. Chelsea picked up from where they had left off and Pedro went close for a second time, forcing a low stop out of Pickford. Minutes later, an injury to Idrissa Gana Gueye meant Everton had to use their third and final substitution, with youngster Beni Baningime the replacement.
The change meant that the likes of Oumar Niasse and a fit-again Yannick Bolasie would remain seated for the rest of the afternoon, unable to add the attacking spark required to find a breakthrough. It was now up to Chelsea to convert their dominance into clear-cut chances but, as in the opening half, they struggled.
The best Hazard could muster was one shot from the inside-left channel that Pickford comfortably parried away. Antonio Rudiger was denied by Everton goalkeeper on the volley too, but the closest Chelsea came in the second half was through Williams. The defender rose to meet and clear Moses’ cross from the right but his powerful header only sent the ball crashing against own bar.
The visitors toiled some more right up until stoppage time at which point, hopeful of a late winner, Goodison urged their players on. The final chance - certainly Everton’s best and perhaps the best all day - came at the end of a brief spell of home pressure and fell to Michael Keane, in Chelsea’s penalty area with the intention of meeting Gylfi Sigurdsson’s late corner. The defender connected with a free header but blazed the ball several feet over.
It would have earned Everton a win that would not have reflected the story of the match. They would just have to make do with a deserved point.
Everton (4-1-4-1): Pickford; Martina, Keane, Jagielka, Kenny; Schneiderlin; Lennon (Sandro 45), Davies (Williams 45), Gueye (Baningime 51), Sigurdsson; Calvert-Lewin.
Substitutes not used: Joel, Bolasie, Niasse, Holgate.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses (Zappacosta 81), Kanté, Bakayoko, Alonso; Willian (Batshuayi 71), Pedro (Fabregas 63), Hazard.
Substitutes not used: Caballero, Drinkwater, Cahill, Hudson-Odoi.
Referee: R Madley
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