Everton dug in to earn a point against Chelsea as they extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to six matches.
It was a performance heavily reliant on the dogged defending and some crucial interventions from Jordan Pickford as Sam Allardyce's side failed to register a shot on target in the 90 minutes.
Ashley Williams went closest to scoring for either side when he headed a cross off his own crossbar in the second half while, at the other end, Michael Keane wasted the Blues' best and only real chance when he put a free header over the bar in injury time.
With Wayne Rooney absent through illness and rumours of an injury to Mason Holgate, Allardyce was forced into a couple of changes as Tom Davies came back into the starting XI and Keane and Phil Jagielka partnered in defence.
Morgan Schneiderlin retained his place alongside Idrissa Gueye in defensive midfield and the pairing was an important one as Everton set out to try and contain Chelsea while relying on Dominic Calvert-Lewin's industry and hold-up play as the outlet for consistent long balls out from the back.
If Allardyce had been hoping to catch the champions on an off-day, he would be disappointed. Chelsea began on the front foot, with Pedro firing narrowly wide early on and Jagielka twice making goal-line blocks to keep the contest goalless in the 10th minute.
Isolated up front, Calvert-Lewin was mainly employed as target for Pickford's clearances but after Davies had dragged a rare shot wide, the young striker's determination yielded the home side's best chance of the first half on the stroke of half-time.
Robbing Marcos Alonso on the touchline, he drove into the box but ill-advisedly went for glory rather than play in Gylfi Sigurdsson arriving in space and his effort was blocked.
Allardyce made a double change at the break, withdrawing Davies and Aaron Lennon in favour of Williams and Sandro Ramirez but after a Pedro shot had been parried away by Pickford, the Blues' boss was forced into another change when Gueye was forced off with what looked to be a hamstring injury just four minutes into the second half.
While failing to mount anything of substance going forward, Everton were at least keeping the visitors at bay but it took a couple more saves from Pickford and some fortune when Williams came within inches of putting through his own goal to keep them off the scoresheet.
The point keeps Everton in ninth place heading into successive away games to close out 2017 and extends Allardyce's unbeaten run to six in all competitions but the pattern of the game will keep the Blues' attacking short-comings at the forefront of the manager's mind as the January transfer window approaches.
Everton were without Wayne Rooney as Chelsea came to Goodison Park for the final game before Christmas.
Everton's talisman and leading goalscorer missed today's vital game with a flu bug. Tom Davies started in his place, with Phil Jagielka coming back in as captain, replacing Ashley Williams who was on the bench.
Yannick Bolasie made his return to senior football as one of the substitutes after being out for over a year with a serious knee injury. Sandro and Niasse were also on the bench.
The game started as the fog rolled back in, Everton hoofing the ball up to Calvert-Lewin and out of play. Chelsea respond with Moses whipping in a wicked cross that somehow Hazard missed, something of an early let-off.
Everton almost applied some pressure but the ball would not run for them.
Keane was forced to give away the first corner, Pedro eventually shooting wide. But Everton cultured something of an attack, Lennon getting the ball back from Chelsea and Sigurdsson's shot blocked by Kante.
More frantic defending before Davies tried to play in Calvert-Lewin. After more good work from Davies, Martina then got a decent cross in that Calvert-Lewin could not put any power on. He was booked for catching someone's ankle pretty harmlessly.
Two incredible clearances off the line saved Pickford and a certain opening goal, fantastic positioning from the captain Jagielka as Chelsea attacked with strength.
Chelsea continued to dominate, forcing the Blues back into their own half, and making them look very poor and panicked in defence, a desperate parry out by Pickford wildly hacked at by Kante.
Everton had some rare possession and had no idea what to do with the ball after Davies gave it to Schneiderlin, a forward ball sailing past Lennon. Everton tried some fast but accurate passing — too fast as Lennon could not control it. Davies fed Sigurdsson who drove his pass beyond Martina and out of play, giving Chelsea another chance to attack again.
Martina was really poor challenging Moses, giving away a needless and dangerous free-kick and earning a yellow card. Willian tried to curl it in but it flew past the angle, another let-off.
Calvert-Lewin won another hoofed ball upfield but there was no-one there to pick up the second ball. The Blues were a little more competitive in retaining possession but Sigurdsson again spurned the chance to create something, pushing the ball through to no-one.
Davies got a chance to dribble forward but looked petrified and lost the ball after showing too much to the defender. But Chelsea's dominance had waned a little as they tried a long ball themselves, Pedro flagged for offside. After some better possession, Davies drove forward but made his shot too early and well off target.
Everton's defence seemed to now have better shape, forcing Chelsea to again play a longer ball forward that Pickford gathered. But on the next attack, Pedro got clear and powered his shot high for Pickford to make a flamboyant save to parry it high in the air.
Everton were doing a little better in challenging the Chelsea players for the ball in midfield but and keeping the white shirts further away from the Everton goal. Calvert-Lewin brilliantly controlled a clearance only to find he had no-one in support to pass to, and another Chelsea attack ensued.
Everton got a chance to build down the left but it ended with a loose pass from Davies. Through shear perseverance, Calvert-Lewin got free with the ball as Christensen slipped but tried to go for glory rather than laying it off to support and just hit it into a Chelsea defender. Incredibly the half-time whistle blew with the game still scoreless.
Two changes at the break: Sandro and Williams on; Davies and Lennon off. But they had to defend immediately from the restart, Pedro firing in, and Pickford incredibly saving very well. In the next attack, Willian drove the ball wide after Everton defenders could only ball-watch as it whizzed around their area.
Keane did very well with a key tackle and it allowed Everton to attack with a decent cross in from Kenny. But Gueye went down, holding his left leg, and Baningime stripped off for a third and final Blues change early in the second half.
Everton then wasted a throw-in in an advanced position, and continued to look scrappy and lacking any real ideas. They tried to build down the left until Martina played a pass straight to a white shirt. Calvert-Lewin was next to do some good work only to give the ball away with a poor pass, but Kenny got forward down the right, only for Keane to get the yellow card after catching Hazard from behind.
There was some decent fight from the Blues, trying to retain possession and give Chelsea something to think about. CL played in Martina who won a first corner, taken by Sigurdsson, punched away by Courtois. Chelsea broke but Keane made a superb tackle on Hazard.
Schneiderlin was next to make a superb interception to steal the ball off a Chelsea attacker, then another in midfield on Willian. Sadly, the passing wasn't up to the standard of the tackling, but the Blues were making a better fist of things.
Chelsea upped their game, though, Kenny heading away a dangerous cross before Hazard lashed in a wicked shot that Pickford parried, and they somehow survived. Chelsea had a good spell of probing but the Everton defence resisted and Willian drove wide. He was then replaced by Batshuayi.
Everton could not break out effectively, Sigurdsson picking put CL but the forward again was isolated with on-one to pass to and Chelsea were able to build again. A fierce across by Moses was headed by Williams onto the face of the bar and away.
A great ball out to Kenny was sent in first-time to Calvert-Lewin and he tried to make something of it but could only carry it away from goal under heavy pressure, and Chelsea once again piled on the pressure. Everton again tried to break but quick passing between Kenny and Sandro finally broke down and in another Chelsea attack Hazard almost beat Pickford.
Zappacosta's shot was blocked and Sandro found Calvert-Lewin with an excellent ball but any forward movement was stalled again through lack of any meaningful support.
Hazard danced past Martina and lashed in another shot but it hit his own player and gave Pickford more time to gather the ball. Sigurdsson did well to win the ball only to waste it, and allow Chelsea to come right back at the exhausted Everton defence.
Sandro worked hard again to win a free-kick for Sigurdsson to curl in toward Williams but it was defended away, only to come back in with Sandro winning a very late corner, headed just inches over by Keane, should have scored.
Chelsea came forward again for the umpteenth time, winning a corner that cleared everyone and Sandro almsot got to it ahead of Azpilicueta. A frantic spell ensued, Pickford getting a strange free-kick that allowed another venture forward by Everton before it was repelled without a shot on Chelesa's goal.
The torture was finally over, and Sam Allardyce's incredible unbeaten run continues.
Kick-off: 12:30pm, Saturday 23rd December 2017
Everton: Pickford, Kenny, Keane [Y:57'], Jagielka, Martina [Y:21'], Schneiderlin, Gueye (50' Baningime), Lennon (46' Williams), Sigurdsson, Davies (46' Sandro), Calvert-Lewin [Y:13'].
Subs not Used: Robles, Holgate, Bolasie, Niasse.
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Moses(81' Zappacosta), Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso, Willian, Pedro (63' Fabregas), Hazard (71' Batshuayi).
Subs: Hudson-Odoi, Caballero, Drinkwater, Cahill.
Referee: Robert Madley
Almost a Christmas miracle
Early kick off meant an early start, and with Gaz picking me up at 10.30am we were in the pub at a somewhat misguided hour of 11am for a couple of early jars pre-game. The free hot dog in the pub proved welcome and we arrived at Goodison Park just in time for kick off, three changed from Monday’s win against Swansea City, all enforced. Ashley Williams, Mason Holgate and Wayne Rooney all missed out through injury, albeit the two centre backs were deemed fit enough for the substitutes bench, quite importantly, as it turned out in the second half.
WIth Alvaro Morata, ridiculously, suspended Antonio Conte resisted the temptation to field Michy Batshuayi and instead Pedro seemed to be deployed as a ‘false nine’. Maybe not having a recognised striker on the field was the overriding difference between Chelsea not taking all three points in this game as they failed to convert the chances that came their way. Credit to Everton though who were resolute throughout, and held on for a draw in a real backs-to-the-wall effort. Credit to the supporters too who contributed and backed the Blues all the way.
We were a little fortunate to go in at the break all square. Phil Jagielka twice cleared off the goal line in quick succession from Tiemoue Bakayoko as Chelsea dominated. Bobby Madley made things more difficult for Everton with two ridiculous yellow cards for Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cuco Martina. In the first half particularly, Cuco really struggled to come to terms with the yellow card and was very anxious to tackle from that point on. Our best opportunity came and went when Dominic Calvert-Lewin robbed Andreas Christensen of possession on the touch line, but didn’t quite have the composure to play the right pass when he took the ball into the penalty area.
Dissecting the state of play at the break, we felt we would do well to come out of the game with a point should we carry on playing this way. While we were digging in well, we were nowhere near clever enough in possession and we were missing a cool head up there to assist Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Conversely, we felt if we went for the game more we could easily get overrun as the team, if nothing else, were doing a disciplined job of keeping out the champions. Our ‘plan’ was to keep things as it was and then, assuming we’re still level, on 70 minutes put Gylfi Sigurdsson up there and give it a bit of a crack. Big Sam then stunned us by changing it sooner. Off came Aaron Lennon and Tom Davies, replaced by Ashley Williams and Sandro Ramirez to give us something of a 3-4-1-2 formation with Gylfi moved in field. While fundementally this wasn’t a bad idea, you felt it was quite the gamble at that stage. The players needed to get to grips with the new system quickly, but Chelsea were straight on the front foot and we weren’t allowed the opportunity to settle. This was compounded when Idrissa Gana Gueye limped off, replaced by Beni Baningime, meaning we could not make any more substitutions. From the minute our final substitution was made it almost felt that it was a case of hanging on for what we had, and with 39 minutes still to play, that was some tall order.
Credit to the lads for sticking at it, but my word, that was tough going. Chelsea were relentless and we somehow withstood wave upon wave of Chelsea attacks. Jordan Pickford made key saves when he had to, and there were I-don’t-know-how-many deep clearances from our defenders, though the closest Chelsea came was when Ashley WIlliams got a head to a Victor Moses cross and will have been the most relieved man in the stadium to see the ball come back out off the underside of the crossbar. A real let off for Everton. It was unbearable to watch at times and we were almost grateful to not be able to see much of the second half from the Gwladys Street thanks to the blinding sun in the last 30 minutes of the game. Even though I, smugly, brought my sunglasses along it was still very difficult to make out what was happening with practically all the action down the far end of the field.
Despite all this, we did have the opportunity of a Christmas miracle when a late free kick gave us the opportunity to relieve the pressure and get the centre backs up. The ball was played in deep and put behind by Chelsea for a corner. Gylfi played it inch-perfect to Michael Keane who, with a free header from the penalty spot, unfortunately headed too high in what was a golden opportunity. That would have been about as smash-and-grab as you can get.
The last action of the game was Cuco Martina booting the ball high into the top balcony. Had it have been returned quickly Bobby Madley would have allowed Chelsea one last attack. Thankfully some bright spark up there had the wisdom to hold onto the ball until Madley decided enough was enough and blew for full time. The ball was then returned.
A resilient effort from Everton and if you cast your mind back a month to that wretched performance versus Southampton, you would never in your wildest of dreams have us walking away from a draw with the champions a little miffed that we didn’t have more of a go at them. We have to improve with our attacking play against the big teams and Big Sam has acknowledged as much following our draws with Liverpool and Chelsea, but let’s walk not run. You would have to be a real Grinch to be unhappy with our results these last seven games and it’s nice to be looking up and not down.
Thanks Big Sam. This ain’t half as bad as I expected it to be.
Merry Christmas Blues.
Pickford: Made good saves when he had to. Some of his kicking was suspect but you sort of let him off for it. I like that he’s got the courage to try it. 7
Martina: A bit like in the Merseyside derby, he started well enough but as soon as something went against him his head dropped very quickly and he became quite the liability in the first half. Unlike in the Merseyside derby however, he did somehow manage to recover in the second half and stood up to the task quite manfully I thought. Seemed to improve as the second half wore on. He’s not everybody’s cup of tea, hardly anyone’s in fact but I feel he’s doing about his best, and though it’s not without faults, that’s good enough for me. 6
Keane: Slotted in well. Will rue that missed opportunity at the death. 7
Jagielka: Had a very solid afternoon. It’s good that Phil and Michael are giving Big Sam a bit of a selection headache. 8
Kenny: Continues to impress and was probably our most attacking outlet in the second half. 7
Gueye: Was having a good game until injury struck. Will be missed. 7
Schneiderlin: I thought Morgan had an excellent game, certainly his best of the season. He was combative and disruptive throughout and did a very good job of unsettling Chelsea. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Won’t be popular, but my man of the match. 8
Lennon: Will have felt a bit unlucky to be substituted as he was having a good game but it was system change and nothing to do with his performance. Can be very pleased with his contribution this last month or so and you have to wonder why Ronald Koeman neglected to turn to Aaron when we were struggling. 7
Sigurdsson: Did pretty well. Would have liked to have got on the ball more in the second half but his effort is exemplary. 7
Davies: Seemed to have a bit of a free role of floating between midfield and attack. He made some decision-making mistakes and can’t really complain about being substituted, but I really hope this doesn’t deter him from trying these things. I like his dynamism and the only way he’ll learn is with games. No complaints from me. 5
Calvert-Lewin: Battled hard albeit without reward. His decision making is poor at times but like Tom, the only way he’ll learn is with games. 6
Williams (for Davies): Brought on to bolster the back line and he did that to good effect, even with that chunk of luck when his header came back off the underside of the crossbar. He did well otherwise. 7
Ramirez (for Lennon): He provided reasonable nuisance value I suppose, but he must be desperate for an opportunity and I expected him to make more of it really. It’s tough to judge him on limited game time but you have to feel he’s been disappointing so far. Would like to see more of him before writing him off though. 5
Baningime (for Gueye): Coped well in a very challenging game. A real bright prospect for the future. 6
A measure of Everton's revival under Sam Allardyce arrives this weekend as Chelsea come to Goodison Park for the final game before Christmas.
The festive season kicks off with the Blues hosting the third-placed Londoners looking to make up more ground on the top seven having won three of four Premier League games under the new manager.
Combined with David Unsworth's swan song as interim boss, a 4-0 drubbing of West Ham in late November, it's a sequence of results that has vaulted Everton from the 18th place they occupied when Ronald Koeman was sacked to ninth. A win over Chelsea this weekend and a draw or defeat for Leicester against Manchester United would move Allardyce's men into eighth.
They will have to get past the reigning champions first, however, something they haven't managed in the League since Steven Naismith scored that memorable hat-trick in a 3-1 win in September 2015. Since 2015-16, when Everton under Roberto Martinez also came within seconds of winning at Stamford Bridge and then saw Chelsea off in the FA Cup quarter finals, all four subsequent meetings in all competitions.
Antonio Conte's side have lost just twice since the two sides last met in the Carabao Cup in West London but both defeats were away from home and offer hope for Everton as Allardyce seeks to pinpoint the opposition's weaknesses. They were comprehensively beaten by Roma in the Champions League in October and, perhaps more encouragingly, lost 1-0 to West Ham two weekends ago, David Moyes's first win in charge of the Hammers.
Also working in the Toffees' favour is the fact that Conte's top scorer Alvaro Morata will serve a one-match suspension this weekend for picking up a soft booking for his goal celebration against Bournemouth in the League Cup last night, his fifth yellow of the season.
Michy Batshuayi is expected to take his place while the only other absentee for the visitors is likely to be David Luiz who has a knee injury.
For Everton, Yannick Bolasie could be named in the matchday squad for the first time in over a year. The Congolese winger returned to full training last month, has played just over a full game's worth for the Under-23s and was, more than likely, involved in the 11-vs-11 practice match that Allardyce said he was going to stage at Finch Farm this week to further assess those fringe players who have not been able to get into the team recently.
Among them are strikers Sandro Ramirez and Oumar Niasse. The former only got a couple of minutes at the end of the win over Swansea last Monday but the latter was omitted from the squad entirely and was seen leaving Goodison before the match. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Wayne Rooney in good form, those two players will surely be vying for one spot on the bench alongside the likes of Ademola Lookman and Nikola Vlasic.
That's because given the difficulty of the assignment, it's a good bet that Allardyce will retain something close to an unchanged line-up from the one that started the last two matches. Deploying two holding midfielders, particularly at home, has become unpopular among Blues supporters of late but the manager could go with that formation again, at least for the first hour or so, even though Everton looked better going forward against Swansea once the energy and direct-ness of Tom Davies had been introduced.
Evertonians have long known that despite the collapse in form under Koeman, there is a lot more talent and potential in the squad than results under the Dutchman suggested. Performances under Allardyce haven't been stellar so far either but the result will again be paramount against Chelsea. Notch another win and it's another big step towards completely changing the outlook for the remainder of the season.
Kick-off: 12:30pm, Saturday, 23rd December, 2017
Referee: Robert Madley
Last Time: Everton 0 - 3 Chelsea
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Kenny, Holgate, Williams, Martina, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Lennon, Sigurdsson, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin