Everton’s attack was one dimensional
Generally speaking there have been two scenarios in which Everton’s attack has been effective for large stretches of the game. First, their counter attack is catching teams off guard, giving them numbers going into the attacking third. Second, using their full backs to overlap and overload one side of the defense. While they have scored through other methods, I would say that those two have been their most successful strategies.
Unfortunately for Everton, neither of those methods worked for them against Chelsea. The strategy of playing through their full backs, which is best personified with Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman, is much less effective with the absence of Coleman. Baines, for all his positives no longer has the legs to bomb down the left flank, and Mason Holgate simply seems reluctant to do the same. The counter attack strategy nearly paid off on a few occasions, but Everton bungled most of their opportunities.
This forced Everton to do two things they don’t do particularly well, especially against better teams, play the ball out of the back and bomb longs balls down the field. Against Chelsea, this is a losing strategy. Chelsea’s midfield duo of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic shut down any of Everton’s progress through the middle, while David Luiz and Gary Cahill killed the long ball. This Everton team simply doesn’t have enough dynamic players on their active roster to break open a game like this and steal a goal or two from a team that is as good as Chelsea.
Barkley neutered in the middle of the pitch
Ross Barkley has shown flashes of brilliance since joining the first team on a regular basis. The one knock against him has been his consistency, which he seems to have found this season under Ronald Koeman. When Barkley has been deployed on the wing in Koeman’s system, he has flourished.
Against Chelsea, Barkley was once again moved to the middle of the pitch and the results were mixed. Overall, Barkley was fine, he held possession well, his dribbling skills were on display and he used his size and strength to get into good positions. Despite this, his positional limitations kept him from influencing the game as he usually does.
Playing in the middle of the pitch meant he did not have the ability to drift around the pitch and into open spaces. With Idrissa Gueye tasked with marking Eden Hazard all day, extra defensive responsibilities were thrown on Barkley and Tom Davies. Neither player was able to influence the match in the offensive third leaving Romelu Lukaku largely isolated up top.
This match encapsulates Everton’s issues
This match against Chelsea, even more so than the draw to West Ham shows the obstacles that Everton need to overcome to compete in the top four. First, the talent on the squad obviously needs an upgrade and goalkeeper and winger are the two positions that stand out most.
Neither Maarten Stekelenberg nor Joel Robles do anything to inspire confidence. In a vacuum, they are both decent goalkeepers, but they do just enough wrong over a stretch of games to cost their team a goal or two. Robles has the potential to improve, but Stekelenberg is what he is at this stage of his career.
On the wing, their isn’t a single player on the roster that can break open a match with their pace, or provide consistent service from the flanks. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman have shown flashes, but they are probably a few years away from producing at a high level. As for the veterans, Enner Valencia and Kevin Mirallas are simply to inconsistent to be relied on to start every week.
Finally, there is overall squad depth, or lack thereof. This has to be a priority heading into next season with European play on the horizon. Even if we take the Europa League out of the equation, squad depth is crucial when the inevitable injuries occur. Look at the full back depth chart for example. If Baines or Coleman go down with injury, the options behind them are not fantastic. Holgate and Brendan Galloway are fine defender, but not complete full backs, Luke Garbutt has fallen off the face of the earth and the other options are fresh out of the academy. I don’t expect Everton to have Real Madrid level subs, but there needs to be an increase in talent on the bench for this team.