Everton were knocked out of the Carabao Cup yesterday evening despite a much-improved performance. The Blues dominated the 2nd half and were very unlucky not to get extra time at least. Goals from Antonio Rudiger and Willian were enough for the defending Premier League champions, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring a consolation in the dying seconds.
From the off it seemed like a weight had been lifted off the players, the inclusion of wingers fuelling the optimism of Evertonians pre-game. The play was quicker and more confident, with players asking for the ball instead of hiding from it like in Ronald Koeman’s final few games. Unfortunately, a lift in spirits is not enough to sort out a poor defence. Ashley Williams made a couple of routine blocks but on the whole he was poor again, sloppily losing possession on numerous occasions and losing his man, Antonio Rudiger, who headed in the game’s opening goal from a 26th minute corner. The Welsh captain again gave the ball away inside the Everton half which nearly resulted in a second Chelsea goal too, Willian laid it off for Italian wing back Davide Zappacosta who had bombed forward but he slammed his effort into the side netting.
The Toffees failed to test Willy Caballero, who was between the Chelsea sticks, but in all honesty excluding the goal, Jordan Pickford had one save to make and that was a pea roller from Batshuayi. An unfortunate error had cost Everton but you could certainly see that improvements had already been made.
Wayne Rooney was ineffective as the lone front man but that is down to the severe lack of quality we have in attack. If Koeman and Steve Walsh had done their jobs and signed a replacement for Romelu Lukaku then Rooney would be in his more comfortable and effective role of second striker. Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon were well-marshalled on the flanks but again it was just nice to finally have some width and wide options. The first half was a stark reminder of how badly we need the January transfer market. We need to bite the bullet and spend big on a quality striker and at least two defenders, a strong centre back to partner Michael Keane and some better cover for Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines.
If the first half was uneventful and still quite poor, the second half was a completely different story. The Blues got right at Chelsea and began to dominate the play, pressing the home side into mistake after mistake and snuffing out counter attacks before they had time to develop. The first of Everton’s many 2nd half chances fell to Rooney. After Jonjoe Kenny overlapped Lennon, the winger fed the young right back who whipped one in towards Mirallas. The Belgian nodded down for Rooney who had Caballero’s goal at his mercy, but his volley went off the charging Argentine’s hip and out for a corner. It was a taste of things to come. Just seconds later Caballero scuffed his clearance right to the feet of Lennon, who with a better first touch would have been one on one. Instead the ball bounced off his feet and allowed the keeper the chance to clear.
Kenny and Baines were getting forward to great effect and were causing headaches for a shaky looking Chelsea back four. Mirallas also upped his game tremendously and the often frustrating wide man was playing at the level we all know he can. He delivered an exquisite cross which found Lennon on the stretch at the far stick, but Rudiger managed to get a toe to it which took it behind for another corner. Chelsea were struggling to handle the Toffees and couldn’t get out of their own half, with the introduction of Dominic Calvert-Lewin only adding to their woes, he replaced James McCarthy who put in a real workmanlike performance in his first start since February.
Goal scorer Rudiger was upset about not receiving a free kick and took out his anger on Mirallas, upending the Belgian and giving Baines a chance to whip one in, the German centre back received a yellow card for his troubles. From the free kick Baines found Phil Jagielka, whose flicked header was goal bound, but man of the match Caballero was equal to it again. I’d actually forgotten what is was like having periods of sustained pressure on the opposition goal, missing chance after chance and bemoaning the keeper, the posts, the grass, the “Lucky” defenders, the floodlights etc......it felt good to have the old Everton back!
Just minutes later and Caballero was called into action again, as Aaron Lennon’s skewed cross fortuitously found its way to Mirallas who unleashed a ferocious effort at goal, but the keeper was equal to it once again. Ademola Lookman was introduced in place of Lennon and immediately got at the now frantic home defence, having a couple of chances to level the match. In what was the best move of the game, Baines played a ball inside which Mirallas dummied for Davies, he feigned passing a couple of times before slipping in Lookman with a cute reverse ball. Lookman however drilled his shot into the near side netting; in hindsight a shot across goal may have been more effective. Just minutes later Lookman took centre stage again as he effortlessly lost his man on the right flank, cut in and curled an absolute beauty at goal. For once Caballero was beaten but the ball could only clip the crossbar and another chance had gone begging.
Chelsea’s only real chance before stoppage time came to Batshuayi. After Rooney played a loose pass behind Williams, the young centre forward got on the end of it, rounded Pickford and looked certain to slide into an empty net, however Jagielka heroically got back and hooked the ball away from goal and out for a corner. Sadly though, Everton’s missed chances would come back to haunt them as two minutes into the four added on Willian put the home side 2-0 up. Chelsea were just trying to kill time but Willian found space on the left and entered the box before firing an inch perfect effort off the post and in. Everton did finally get a deserved goal but it was too late, as substitute Oumar Niasse worked really hard and refused to be dispossessed before the ball dropped for DCL to poke home a consolation goal, a tough loss to swallow but certainly one which gives great hope to everyone concerned with the club.
It shows how much has changed in such a short amount of time that we are devastated we haven’t beaten the Champions of England on their own patch. That 2nd half is by far and away the best we have played all season. The players gave absolutely everything and had Chelsea well and truly on the ropes, on another day it could have been 3 or 4-1 Everton.
David Unsworth, as expected, has give everyone around the club a lift, he’s got them playing for the shirt and he has certainly restored some optimism after the performance this evening. The play was quicker and smarter; players were making clever runs and trying more intricate, risky passes. It was worlds away from the utter dross we have had to endure under Koeman this season so far. That is the least upset I have ever been and probably will ever be about losing a game and for the first time in what seems like an eternity, I am looking forward to the next Everton game. If we are half as good as we were tonight away at Leicester this weekend we will leave the Foxes in our dust.