Chelsea's top four hopes dealt hammer blow after defeat at Everton
A 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park means Maurizio Sarri's side will likely need to win the Europa League to qualify for next season's Uefa Champions League
It was, in more ways than one, a missed opportunity for Chelsea. On a weekend when none of their rivals for third and fourth place was in Premier League action, they dropped three points.
They were left to rue their profligacy at Goodison Park. A side who could have been three goals up after eight minutes instead suffered a fourth defeat in five away league games. It is looking more likely they will have to win the Europa League to qualify for the Uefa Champions League.
If that scarcely bodes well for Maurizio Sarri, there were contrasting emotions for a manager with the same initials. It is fair to say Marco Silva needed this. Over the previous 17 league games, only Huddersfield Town and Fulham had taken fewer points than Everton. They had not won at home for two months. A club with aspirations to join the elite had a wretched record against them.
But, after an anaemic start, they conjured a landmark result. They had gone 26 months and 25 games without beating any of the big six. A wait that dated back to Manchester City’s 4-0 defeat in January 2017 was ended. Goodison Park, a miserable place of late, acquired the right sort of atmosphere.
That owed something to Silva. Everton were mediocre before the break but his half-time team talk clearly had an impact. His side returned with added urgency and struck through Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson, their two biggest buys delivering a sizeable win.
If it was a reminder of the talent in their ranks, it also showed what can happen when Everton play with intensity. They lacked it before the break. Chelsea were clearly the superior side, Eden Hazard the game’s most inventive player and Chelsea’s tweaked variant of Sarriball looking effective.
Yet they lacked the end product. If Everton started shambolically, it nonetheless amounted to a redemptive afternoon for Jordan Pickford following his traumatic trip to Newcastle United last week. He was flawless on this occasion, beginning with a sharp stop from Hazard, though he required assistance to preserve parity at the start.
Hazard was denied by the post when he had a second shot. When Gonzalo Higuain closed in on goal, Pickford took the pace off his effort and the covering Michael Keane cleared off the line. Everton were not carved open as often thereafter, but Chelsea looked the likelier scorers for the remainder of the half.
They had everything bar the finish. Only Pedro supplied it, but when offside. Otherwise, the Spaniard skewed a shot well wide, while he came closer with a fine effort that arrowed narrowly wide and Higuain cleared the bar with a clever flick.
Evertonians were silent apart from a soundtrack of boos whenever Ross Barkley touched the ball; indeed, it began when his name was announced before kick-off.
A first return to Goodison Park since his sale last January was not a friendly affair; the home faithful even cheered when the midfielder misplaced shots in the warm-up and they took rather more pleasure from a miscued effort in the actual match that was sliced so much it angled out of the penalty area. While Barkley did not hide, his substitution brought loud cheers.
When he departed, his new employers were a goal down. Kepa Arrizabalaga was not truly tested until the second half, when he had to tip Andre Gomes’ curling effort away. It was a warning Everton had stepped up their efforts. They got their reward.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin had striven valiantly with little support in the first half. He was instrumental to the breakthrough, escaping David Luiz’s attentions to meet Sigurdsson’s corner. Arrizabalaga blocked the striker’s forceful header but Richarlison was first to react and turned in the rebound. It was the Brazilian’s first Everton goal against top-six opponents.
While Marcos Alonso lashed a shot into the side-netting and Pickford tipped Higuain’s crisp half-volley away as Chelsea sought an equaliser, Everton were galvanised by their goal and got another.
Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin were a threat on the counter-attack and Alonso caught the irrepressible Brazilian. Sigurdsson has been unusually wasteful from the spot this season and though Arrizabalaga saved his spot kick, the Icelander scored at the second attempt.
Everton could have scored a third, with Arrizabalaga saving from substitute Theo Walcott. Sarri made a symbolic substitution, taking off Jorginho. His replacement, Callum Hudson-Odoi, almost pulled a goal back.
Instead, Pickford made another admirable save. For the goalkeeper, the manager and the team, it amounted to a restorative occasion.
Updated: March 18, 2019 01:41 PM