Everton suffer defensive horror show
Nine goals -- five of them in the space of 10 second half minutes -- and countless talking points resulted in one exhilarating game of football between Everton and Chelsea in Saturday's late kick-off.
Still, if there was a defining moment in this epic match, it was the sixth Chelsea goal and the sight of Everton's central defenders sprawled out in a desperate attempt to halt the run of Diego Costa. The last act, which began with a ludicrous Muhamed Besic back-heel, best encapsulated this defensive horror show.
Battered and bruised -- both physically and mentally -- the Everton back line took the defensive jitters of the previous two matches and threatened to turn them into a crisis. Shipping ten goals in three matches, the third-best defence from last season is currently a pale imitation of itself.
At the heart of the problem is a central defensive pairing weaker than water at present, with Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin seemingly unsure of themselves and each other. These experienced professionals are playing as though they had never met before.
The confidence has gone, seemingly on the pitch and in the stands. Where there was once belief, there is now fear; fear that the next attack could bring about the concession of a goal. Opposing sides can sense it, and Chelsea exploited it here. Seizing on any hint of uncertainty or hesitation, they ruthlessly drilled holes into an already creaking vessel.
As the vessel slowly sunk, the captain drowned first. Culpable for the Chelsea opener, Jagielka has struggled for form since returning from injury toward the end of last season. Combine that with an extended summer and a brief preseason, and it is apparent why the England centre back looks miles off the pace in the early stages of the new campaign.
Jagielka soon found himself ably supported in the floundering department, though. There may have been a degree of fortune about some of the visiting goals -- one was offside, while two others had the final touch applied by an Everton player -- but slack marking and sloppy defending underpinned each of the six. On current evidence, John Stones may not be warming the bench for much longer.
What made this off day more galling, though, were the positives evident at the other end of the pitch. As turgid as the defending was, there were at least signs of life in the attacking third.
Much like his one-man resistance at Anfield last term, Kevin Mirallas seems to save his best for adversity. As his teammates attempted to recover from the loss of two goals in the first three minutes, Mirallas was the one doing everything within his power to drag his side back into the contest. He succeeded, albeit temporarily.
Capping a fine display with a well-guided header, one that ensured the home side went in at halftime within touching distance, the Belgian forward buzzed along the Chelsea defence, constantly dropping into pockets of space and looking to influence proceedings.
Likewise, in scoring for the third successive week, Steven Naismith again excelled. While it has been a goal each week from Naismith, this was his strongest overall display of the three games thus far. His exquisite finish underlined the strongest aspect of his game: finishing instinctive in the penalty area. Naismith is, on current form at least, the best natural finisher in the squad.
One player who may challenge him on that front, given time, is Samuel Eto'o, who impressed on his debut. With something of a point to prove against his former employers, the veteran forward will have enjoyed the deft header that briefly stirred hopes of a late Everton comeback. Showing his quality throughout his second half debut, with a flick to Mirallas almost resulting in an outrageously good goal, Eto'o proved there is plenty of life in those ageing limbs.
The other positive, at least in terms of individual performances, was Seamus Coleman. Largely exempt from the defensive chaos around him -- his own-goal owed more to misfortune than bad defending -- the fullback took the game to Chelsea throughout. Though the chant from the terraces serves as a constant reminder, it is still hard to believe that Coleman cost just sixty thousand pounds; such is his quality and importance to this side.
Crushing though this was -- having your eye wiped on home turf is rarely anything less -- it was not all doom and gloom. Attacking aspects are promising, especially when factoring in the absence of Steven Pienaar and Ross Barkley.
Nonetheless, the defence must improve greatly; otherwise, it runs the risk of continually undermining the attacking play, as it presently does. Everton need to restore the correct balance; marry the attack and the defence into the cohesive unit evident last season.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.