Sam Allardyce maintains unbeaten start with Everton in dour draw against champions Chelsea
Everton 0 Chelsea 0
Another point and another game unbeaten. That will be what the Everton manager Sam Allardyce focuses on after successfully holding Antonio Conte’s dominant Chelsea, the defending Premier League champions, to a goalless but entertaining draw.
As at Anfield earlier this month, Allardyce’s side resigned themselves to sitting deep, staying organised and hoping that up front, they would find enough scraps for a festive feast. It was not the type of approach many around Goodison Park envisaged this team taking when spending north of £140million 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, it is only Conte who will be disappointed by the final scoreline. Again, his Chelsea players lacked the knack of finding a goal in tight games, that rare and ultimately unsustainable quality that propelled them to their title win last season.
Allardyce could not call upon the recently-rejuvenated Wayne Rooney, scorer of six goals in his last five games, after he was struck down with the flu. With substitutes Ashley Williams and Mason Holgate also somewhat under the weather, Phil Jagielka stepped into the centre of defence as one of three changes and Goodison Park had him to thank for preventing an early Chelsea opener.
Starting for the first time since Everton’s season reached its nadir in November’s 4-1 defeat at Southampton, the veteran defender showed the value experience can bring to a relatively unfamiliar backline. As a game of pinball broke out in Everton’s penalty area, Jagielka placed himself behind Jordan Pickford 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 half way 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.
Everton were by no means comfortable but with their backs firmly pressed against the wall for the remainder of the first half, they prevented Chelsea from creating any chances as good as the two that Jagielka had cleared off the line. 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.
At the other end of the pitch, Dominic Calvert-Lewin had spent much of the half ploughing a lonely furrow, desperately seeking assistance to make the most of his attempts to hold up play. It finally came on the cusp on half-time in the form of Gylfi Sigurdsson, who arrived in support after Calvert-Lewin had done well to rob Andreas Christensen, but the young striker dithered and Everton’s best opening so far was wasted.
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 initially have the desired effect. Chelsea started 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 spark that Everton needed 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 good chance came at the end of a brief spell of Everton pressure and fell to Michael Keane, up top to meet Gylfi Sigurdsson’s corner, but the defender headed a few feet over. A home win would not have reflected the story of the match but on balance, the point was deserved.
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, a trip to Old Trafford to watch Man United take on Liverpool in the Premier League, tickets to Ireland's home games in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.
Independent News Service