Everton revival continues, Chelsea frustrated as Sam Allardyce digs in
LIVERPOOL, England -- Everton held off the attacking threat of Chelsea to claim a much-needed point in a 0-0 draw that shows they are coming back to their old selves.
1. Everton revival continues, Chelsea frustrated
Everton's revival continues, and although this 0-0 draw was far from pretty, it bore the unmistakable imprint of their manager. Sam Allardyce's depleted side barely created a chance in a backs-to-the-wall effort against a frustrated Chelsea but did enough to earn a valuable point to extend their unbeaten run to seven games in all competitions.
Chelsea made most of the early running on a misty lunchtime at Goodison, Pedro whipping a fifth-minute effort wide, and came agonisingly close shortly afterward. The recalled Phil Jagielka did superbly to divert Tiemoue Bakayoko's close-range effort off the line, and even better to clear a second time after the ball rebounded off the lurking Willian.
N'Golo Kante then miskicked after Jordan Pickford had palmed an Eden Hazard cross into his path, drawing amusement from the home support, but the pattern was set and Everton struggled to make any impression on the visitors' defence in the opening half-hour. Tom Davies' 25-yard drive, well wide despite Thibaut Courtois' full-length dive, was the first time they added a threat to their unquestionable industry.
Pedro packed rather more of a punch moments later, the Chelsea forward finding space on the left of the box but seeing Pickford save acrobatically. But by half-time, the pressure had eased, proceedings turning scrappier and sights of goal diminishing.
It was Pedro who fired the first salvo of the second period, lashing in a low drive that Pickford again repelled. But as the half reached its midway stage, that was about the sum of things: Everton were becoming ever harder to break down, and Pedro was eventually replaced by Cesc Fabregas as Antonio Conte sought another way through.
Hazard drew another decent stop from Pickford, and Chelsea, at last, began to peg their hosts back concertedly. They were agonisingly close to breaking through 15 minutes from time when Ashley Williams, flinging himself at Victor Moses' drive cross, glanced a header against his own crossbar.
Pickford saved once again, this time from point-blank range after the ball pinged off one of his own defenders, and gathered a deflected Hazard shot while Fabregas saw an effort of his own fizz wide via an Everton foot.
At this point, a late Chelsea winner appeared likely, but it never came, and Michael Keane went close to heading in an improbable added-time decider for the Toffees. For Chelsea, a presentable chance to draw level on points with second-placed Manchester United went begging.
2. Hazard and Chelsea draw a rare blank
This was a match short of redeeming features, and it had one particularly unwanted "first" for Chelsea. They had not failed to win, or score, when fielding Hazard in a central attacking position but this time fell short on both fronts despite creating several presentable opportunities.
Alvaro Morata's suspension gave Conte the chance to revisit an attacking setup that, whether by accident or design, has served Chelsea superbly. They boasted a 100 percent record from the five occasions they had fielded Hazard as a "false No. 9," winning those games with an aggregate score of 14-1.
Here they had the tightest of locks to pick: Allardyce set Everton up to be tough, compact and hard to break down. They sat deep from the start, inviting pressure and looking to break when possible, and it became clear that space for Chelsea's fluid, mobile front three would be at a premium.
It meant Hazard, whose movement is so intelligent, often found himself dropping deeper than he might have liked -- with none of his midfielders able to fill the areas he had vacated. Allardyce knew that setting up to be too open against players this deft and nimble would be courting disaster; the result was a performance right out of the veteran manager's playbook, and Chelsea found it tough to muster the kind of tempo required to create consistent danger.
When Hazard was clipped by the Everton substitute Beni Baningime just before the hour, subsequently receiving treatment before getting up gingerly, it caused a flutter of concern on Conte's bench but more pertinently demonstrated that Chelsea were being afforded no time to express themselves.
The thought persisted that this would, in fact, have been an afternoon cut out for Morata -- who would have gone directly up against Everton's centre-backs and posed a different kind of problem. Michy Batshuayi was introduced to offer something similar, and Chelsea peppered the home penalty area late on, but to no avail.
3. Everton fans have something to get behind
This is far from the best Everton side of recent years, but there is a sense that their fans have something to get behind once again. They are short of quality across the pitch, that much is clear, but the presence of three academy products in their starting lineup -- Jonjoe Kenny, Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin -- hinted at a bright future, and it is certainly easier to forgive mistakes when they come from players of genuine promise.
Allardyce's prematch plans were hindered by the withdrawal of Wayne Rooney through illness; defenders Mason Holgate and Williams were also affected, although both were able to make the bench. A side that had taken 13 points from its last five Premier League games -- coinciding with the new manager's arrival -- was accordingly disrupted, and it was evident from the outset that this would be an afternoon for digging in and attempting to eke out a result ahead of a tough-looking run.
Calvert-Lewin was largely isolated in the opening period, battling gamely in the lone centre-forward role but too often deprived of support and seeing only one glimmer of goal after an Andreas Christensen mistake. At half-time, Allardyce switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2, replacing Davies and Aaron Lennon with Williams and Sandro Ramirez; the latter provided Calvert-Lewin with company, but pickings remained slim as Everton, sucked deeper as the second period went on, made safety their overwhelming priority.
Any attacking moves Everton constructed were generally snuffed out close to their origin. Kenny, a willing outlet at right wing-back, showed evidence of his potential at both ends of the field, and it is to the huge credit of their younger players that, faced with what became an onslaught, they held firm.
Pickford, looking an increasingly sound contender for the England No. 1 spot, had an excellent game behind that makeshift back line -- but the cheers at full-time showed what the Goodison faithful thought of a gutsy all-round team display.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.