Everton had broken their home form jinx on Thursday with their stunning victory over Newcastle United. After escaping the relegation zone with the win it was great to see that place hold after watching Palace lose, Burnley and Forest draw and only Sheffield pick up three points on Saturday. Everton have now won 8 matches in their last 12 matches in all competitions.
Today, it was Chelsea who made the trek north to have the cauldron of Goodison inflicted upon them. Last season’s opening day victory by Chelsea broke a 4 game winning streak for Everton. However, Chelsea have been struggling to find their best lineup and their best plan to utilize their strengths. Chelsea had won only twice in their last seven Premier League games and they had lost 17 Premier League matches in 2023, one more than they did in 2021 and 2022 combined.
Cole Palmer had to be the main focus of Everton’s pre match work as he had scored five goals and assisted two in his eight Premier League starts for Chelsea.
Everton assessed the fitness of Seamus Coleman and Jordan Pickford before the match after the duo sustained minor injuries on Thursday with Pickford starting and Coleman missing completely. James Garner and Amadou Onana were available following illness and injury respectively with Garner in the starting lineup and Onana on the bench.
Mauricio Pochettino made a number of surprising changes to the side following Wednesday night’s loss at Manchester United. Raheem Sterling, Lewi Colwill, Thiago Silva and Nicolas Jackson all dropped to the bench with Reece James, Conor Gallagher, Benoit Badiashile and Armando Broja coming in. Was this a message of statement following the loss or was it an opportunity to rest some of the players who had played many minutes ahead of the Christmas rush?
After a morning of rain, the sun broke through and Goodison was as loud as ever. Chelsea won the toss and decided to attack the Park End. Michael Oliver got the game underway and Everton immediately were on the front foot putting pressure high up the pitch. The first chance fell to Chelsea as Mudryk broke past Young and put the ball into Enzo Fernandez whose shot was well saved by Pickford and the rebound was put over the net.
Everton’s first foray forward saw Gueye spring Harrison who then put the ball into the box but Calvert Lewin could not get on the end of it. Everton’s first free kick was delivered by Dwight McNeil in front of the Gwladys Street faithful. Sanchez could not handle the ball and it was cleared but moments later the Chelsea keeper was caught messing around with the ball and almost had his clearance blocked on the line by the Everton press.
Broja made a nice move to spin and run which saw Branthwaite a couple of yards off the forward. The young defender made up the ground and was able to clear the ball. Great play. The corner was sent short to Palmer who tested Pickford but the England number one was up to the task. Gueye was then in Michael Oliver’s book for a scissor tackle on Enzo Fernandez which will have him miss the Burnley match.
Another quick break by Mudryk saw Tarkowski shift right and break up the play. Broja broke again and Palmer went down in the box but Oliver saw it as a blatant dive and the young forward went into the book.
Chelsea were bossing the match and getting the better chances but Everton were getting some joy by going over the top of the back line. The left side continued to be the focus. Everton’s first big chance fell to Jack Harrison who took a deflected cross and volleyed the ball with his left foot but the shot screwed wide of the Chelsea goal.
Chelsea made a surpising change in the 27th minute with Reece James leaving the match with a hamstring issue and Levi Colwill coming on. Colwill moved to the left and Cucurella move to the right side. Branthwaite then went into a challenge with Palmer and it was the young defender who remained on the ground. A hush fell over Goodison and the pressure was relieved when the treatment worked and Branthwaite continued.
It was all stop and go with most of it being stop. The flow of the game had been lost. Branthwaite continued to struggle but he soldiered on. It was Mudryk again down the right who easily went by young and his cross was met by Broja, but the shot was wide and high. McNeil was then in behind the back line but he was deemed offside.
With all of the focus on Branthwaite’s injury it was somewhat surprising when Ashley Young was withdrawn and replaced by Nathan Patterson. As Young left the pitch he was in discomfort and looked like he was favouring his hamstring. Four minutes of added time started and Chelsea were pressing forward but they could not break down Everton’s organized defense. With over 70% of ball possession, Chelsea were not getting any serious chances.
Everton ended the half on the front foot with a couple of corners that put pressure on the Chelsea goal. The height difference was showing as Tarkowski was being marked by Cucurella. The corner was delivered and an overhead kick by Doucoure was ambitious but was blocked.
Amadou Onana replaced Idrissa Gueye at the start of the second half. Another fast start from Everton saw McNeil get the ball out wide but Calvert Lewin and Doucoure could not get on the end of it. Enzo Fernandez had neither power or precision in his shot and when the ball ended up in the Chelsea box moments later it was only a great save by Sanchez to deny Dwight McNeil. The ensuing corner saw Sanchez flail at the cross and end up on the ground in a heap.
Another quick break from Dwight McNeil saw him almost taken down by Gallagher but he pressed on and put through a great ball to Calvert Lewin who crashed into Sanchez and the ball fell to Abdoulaye Doucoure who calmly passed the ball into the bottom corner. VAR would not let Everton enjoy the moment but the Mali international’s 6th goal of the season stood and Goodison was in rapture.
Chelsea wanted to get the ball moving forward but the Everton wall was not breaking and the counter attack was always on for Everton. Broja was caught by Branthwaite on the edge of the box and Oliver was quick to produce a yellow card. Cole Palmer stood over the ball and with Gareth Southgate watching his shot made it under the wall but was stopped by the fist pumping Jordan Pickford.
Michael Oliver was booed vociferously by the Goodison crowd after waving off a foul on Mykolenko and then giving an soft foul for a challenge by Calvert Lewin. Dyche just rolled his eyes and put his arms out in frustration. Chelsea continued to push forward but the back line was intercepting and blocking whatever came their way.
Amanda Broja and Fernandez were withdrawn for Jackson and Sterling. Calvert Lewin’s non stop running was appreciated by the Goodison crowd as he departed for Beto. Jackson was immediately in the mix and his shot or cross went just wide of Pickford’s post.
The final 20 minutes arrived with Chelsea having all of the ball. Mykolenko on two occasions did a fine job defensively and snuffed out opportunities. Beto took over from Calvert Lewin and immediately put the defenders under pressure. Chelsea’s Mudryk was given a yellow card and his frustration was on full view.
A wide ball from Onana to Doucoure gave Everton the chance to control the play for a bit and Beto’s header was just not powerful enough to beat Sanchez. Sterling was getting some joy down the right but the pressure was limited. At one moment there was a scramble in the box but Tarkowski cleared the ball and the chance for Jackson was lost.
Chelsea were moving the ball around and Everton were starting to take more time to get out as the pressure mounted. Inviting pressure was a dangerous game to play and the victory would be in the balance. Chelsea were finally forced into a change with the goalkeeper Sanchez being replaced by Petrovic for his first Chelsea game. Cucurella was also withdrawn for Ian Maatsen.
Mudryk broke down the left and his pass into the middle to Palmer was met by a brilliant tackle from James Garner. Perfectly timed. Fresh legs were brought on in the shape of Lewis Dobbin who took off Jack Harrison. It was then Amadou Onana who made a game saving challenge on Palmer on the penalty spot. As the 90th minute arrived the whistles started to ring down from the crowd.
Seven minutes of added time were announced as “Everton, Everton, Everton” rang down from the faithful. That faith was repaid as a corner for Everton was cleared by it dropped to the young Lewis Dobbin who made no mistake and blasted it low and hard to bulge the old onion bag. What a finish. What a moment for the young lad.
The minutes ticked away and Chelsea were just not getting any real chances. The whistle was blown by Michael Oliver, It’s a Grand Old Team was sung with pride and vigour and Evertonians around the world were in Blue Heaven.
Everton Man of the Match: Abdoulaye Doucoure was once again all over the pitch and his goal gave Everton the impetus to push on and do the ugly work to get the victory. His goal was taken with aplomb and could easily have been blasted over the net with the keeper on the ground. Calm and composed. Branthwaite and Tarkowski were giants at the back but the big Malian wins it for me and wins it for me and for the team!
The heatmap for Doucoure is indicative of his influence all over the pitch.
This was a classic game of counterattacking football. This season, Everton is averaging 40% possession and today that was even lower at 28%. The team’s organization has been getting better and better as the season has progressed. The patient play has also had offensive finishing added to the mix which has resulted in more positive results. When Doucoure’s goal went in, the team was energized and their push to the finish line was set. The goal also forced Chelsea forward and left bigger gaps at the back which led to Dobbin’s goal. An incredible team performance following the game plan to a tee. A result that was well earned and we move onto the next match.
Look at this stat. What a change.
Brilliant reference point? Well, here it is:— Michael (@greenallefc) December 8, 2023
Everton's Non-Penalty xG Differential trendline since the beginning of 2021-22.
I have also pinpointed where the home fixture vs Newcastle last season is.
Progress is obvious, isn't it? https://t.co/DmiEZ68lTi pic.twitter.com/1C7cy1V5ET
The Newcastle match saw the return of Seamus Coleman and it was a knock from Anthony Gordon that saw him depart the game at the 67th minute. His return allowed Ashley Young to play further forward which solidified the right side of the pitch. From the off today, Mykhaylo Mudryk was being used to target Young’s lack of pace. When Patterson replaced Young that avenue was used less frequently and the young Scot played an excellent match. It is time to give Patterson a chance to prove himself in the position with Coleman providing support when he is available. Young might have a football brain with experience but with him in the right back position, the team is more vulnerable.
As for Coleman, before the game Sean Dyche was asked about the captain’s absence.
“Hopefully it’s not too serious. Touch and go for the next week or so I would imagine - we will have to wait and see. Being the tremendous captain that he is, and tremendous player that he is, he was on the treadmill the day after the Newcastle game and we had to drag him off that, and remind him that he’s got a minor injury that does need settling down.”
Finally, Sean Dyche has been focused on the team and the team has been focused on the plan. The plan is working and the finishing which he talked about earlier in the season is happening. Defensively solid. Three wins and three clean sheets. The Goodison curse vanquished and a confidence and swagger that is lovely to watch.