A strike as true as you could ever hope to witness by Pedro almost midway through the second half followed by a fortuitous effort by Gary Cahill and a strike from substitute Willian brought to an end Everton’s winning streak at Goodison – eight Premier League games stretching back to a 3-0 victory against Southampton on January 2.
Pedro’s goal was pure artistry, Cahill’s the beneficiary of a parry by Stekelenburg from Hazard’s free-kick which came back off the Chelsea defender into the Everton net and Willian applied the finish after a neat combination with fellow substitute Cesc Fabregas.
An injury to Morgan Schneiderlin’s thigh, exacerbated in training on Friday, did not help matters for Everton, with manager Ronald Koeman emphasising beforehand the need to counteract Chelsea’s vaunted strengths. “If we have the ball, we need to be good in possession and then we need to have good defensive organisation against players like Eden Hazard,” he said. “We can’t give them that space to play between the lines - I think that’s a key point this afternoon.” Idrissa Gana Gueye duly did a man-marking job on Hazard all afternoon.
For Chelsea, there was acknowledgement this could be their toughest remaining fixture of a campaign that has seen Antonio Conte’s team on a seemingly inexorable march, for the most part, towards the Premier League title. That belief was reinforced strongly by the swift and forceful manner with which Everton began, Ross Barkley’s incisive pass in the opening minute to Dominic Calvert-Lewin yielding an opening which the young Yorkshireman almost exploited fully with a shot that slammed into Thibaut Courtois’s near post. Romelu Lukaku was waiting to pounce on the rebound and only a well-timed, brave tackle by Cahill prevented the Chelsea old boy from scoring.
But Chelsea hit their stride swiftly, too, and the danger constantly lurking in Conte’s team was brought fully to bear on the Toffees. Precise, penetrative passing, excellent movement and power that has overwhelmed many an opposing team throughout the season all came together in an ominous burst. Cahill’s shot from 30 yards, which spun awkwardly in front of Maarten Stekelenburg and necessitated a clearance by Ashley Williams after the goalkeeper could only parry the ball away, was only a teaser. When Marco Alonso turned inside Mason Holgate from the left flank and whipped in another dangerous cross Williams was required to head out again for a corner. But the sharp intake of breath that greeted Diego Costa’s sublime pass into the path of Hazard gave powerful voice to the fear induced by the brilliant Belgian running at any opposing goalkeeper. He skipped around Stekelenburg, who came off his line, but the acuteness of the angle defeated him with his shot hitting the side netting.
The big Belgian at the other end was intent on not being outdone and when he held off Luiz and fired in a low shot it was with considerable relief that Courtois watched it slide outside his right hand post. With the action end-to-end and both sides playing some good, positive football, Chelsea were quickly at Everton again, a long clearance by Luiz met by Jagielka’s header in the penalty area before the ball fell for Costa whose volley cleared the crossbar when he might have been expected to hit the target. His reaction suggested that he expected the same of himself.
Lukaku’s quick pass to Enner Valencia drew a foul from Cesar Azpilicueta and a yellow card from the referee, but Barkley’s free-kick from 25 yards was blocked by the Chelsea wall. Moments later Valencia was in the right place again when the ball fell to him on the right and, with Lukaku waiting in the middle, the Ecaudorian sensed his moment. Unfortunately, he was a little heavy on the trigger and his cross flashed across the face of goal and the expectant head of Lukaku.
Parity was more than respectable at half-time for Everton. The second half began with some lively action at both ends, too. From a corner kick, Costa just missed getting a telling touch on a shot by Victor Moses which flashed across the Everton goal and went out for another corner. Then Costa collided with Stekelenburg, who was brave in coming out to meet a back-pass by Phil Jagielka, and the Chelsea striker was booked for leaving his foot in.
At the other end Tom Davies and Barkley went on strong runs that lacked a final touch of consequence and Valencia had a long-range effort deflected for a corner. Then in the 66th minute the breakthrough came, almost from nowhere. Nemanja Matic pick out Pedro who found the crucial yard of space he needed. He moved the ball onto his left foot and, from 25 yards, his strike was sublime, flying past Stekelenburg into the top right corner of his net. Having resisted so well for so long, it was a cruel body blow for the Blues.
Kevin Mirallas and Arouna Kone replaced Valencia and Calvert-Lewin, but the effect was negligible. And when a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area by Hazard zeroed in on goal, forcing hasty remedial action by Stekelenburg, the opportunity afforded Cahill was converted with not a trace of hesitation. For Everton, there was no way back.
Willian then added a third goal with four minutes remaining after exchanging passes with Fabregas to put a harsh tone on the final scoreline.