Everton suffered their first Premier League away defeat in 10 matches – and only a third in 14 this season – after conceding goals in either half to upwardly mobile Chelsea.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team arrived at Stamford Bridge targeting a fourth straight league victory. Perhaps more relevant, they believed they could end Everton’s long-standing winless run on this ground.
That is a measure of the progress achieved since Everton were well beaten here on this date 12 months ago.
The match on 8 March 2020 was the last time Everton played in front of a packed stadium, too, and supporters will be desperately keen to get back and watch Ancelotti’s maturing team in person.
They remained fifth at full-time, four points behind Chelsea in fourth with a game in hand.
Chelsea occupied the same position following their 4-0 victory one year ago. Everton, however, were 12th, 11 points adrift of the London club.
There were no arguments with this result when all was said and done but Everton competed and will reflect on twice conceding at the most untimely moments.
The visitors were belatedly gaining attacking momentum when the blameless Ben Godfrey inadvertently steered into his own net after Marcos Alonso’s fierce delivery flashed off Kai Havertz’s boot and into the defender.
Havertz had a goal ruled out after the break and Everton rode out a period of pressure to display encouraging signs.
Then Chelsea scored again. Jordan Pickford – who made a stream of excellent saves – brought down Havertz in the box.
Jorginho, employing his hop, skip and jump technique, slotted the penalty inside Pickford’s right post.
Manager Ancelotti tweaked his formation and used all three substitutions – Joshua King was quick and forceful in his 20 minutes on the field – in search of a way back.
But for the first time since a 2-0 defeat at Southampton on 25 October, Everton drew a Premier League blank on the road.
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Chelsea’s opening goal coincided with the period when Everton were starting to ask questions of their hosts for the first time.
Indeed, three minutes before they fell behind, Everton engineered their most promising position of the first half.
Andreas Christensen discovered you can’t switch off when Richarlison is lurking, the Brazilian pouncing on a lax touch to scamper across the perimeter of the box.
Jorginho lunged in, mistiming his challenge to send Richarlison flying.
Lucas Digne tried to go up and over the wall with the free-kick but clipped the top of his five-man obstacle and flung his hands to his head as the ball looped behind.
Everton matched Chelsea’s three-at-the-back formation and worked hard to close spaces and frustrate.
Michael Keane and Mason Holgate sprinted from defence to buffet opponents and prevent them from turning, while Allan, in front of his trio of centre-halves, scurried and tackled and intercepted.
The Brazilian looked like a man who benefited from his first 90 minutes in 75 days against Southampton last week
But when Chelsea finally found meaningful space the outcome was fatal for Ancelotti’s team.
It was Alonso who escaped unchecked into the penalty area to receive Callum Hudson-Odoi’s forward pass.
Alonso squared for Havertz, whose touch sent the ball careering into the helpless Godfrey, who had no time to react and can count himself very unfortunate to have an own goal against his name.
The setback didn’t harm Everton’s confidence, which had spiked following their encouraging spell prior to conceding.
Allan picked Mateo Kovacic’s pocket in the centre circle, enabling Gylfi Sigurdsson to send Richarlison bolting towards goal.
Christiansen was alert on this occasion, sweeping across to pinch the ball off the forward’s toe.
Edouard Mendy in Chelsea’s goal had 12 clean sheets in his 22 Premier League games prior to tonight.
He might have begun to wonder if number 13 was going to come easy when Everton directed their first three shots off target.
On the stroke of half-time, however, the Senegalese was sharply down at the base of his left post to save from Andre Gomes’s skimming 20 yarder.
Gomes was influential for Everton, moving the ball forwards quickly and purposefully and covering for Alex Iwobi when the wing-back turned the tables on Alonso to force the Spaniard onto the defensive.
Havertz was the filling in an Allan-Godfrey sandwich as the German surged into dangerous territory – the Everton pair staying on the right side of the law to frustrate the midfielder, who soon had a goalbound shot blocked by Keane.
Keane similarly thwarted Hudson-Odoi and the excellent Everton centre-back took the sting off an Alonso shot – after Christiansen’s ball over the top – with Pickford flashing out a strong right hand to completely avert the danger.
This trading of chances late in the opening half was a million miles away from a cagey opening quarter hour.
Timo Werner was wildly erratic with an effort from Reece James’ cut back, wing-back James next having a go himself with a shot that slammed into Godfrey and ricocheted wide.
Pickford got very late sight of a Jorginho volley through a crowd of bodies after Godfrey cleared a corner, the ball flashing past the keeper’s right post.
Sixty seconds later – in the 17th minute – Jorginho found himself in a similar situation.
The Italian steadied himself as Pickford’s punch from an Alonso free-kick travelled out of the box but skied his return shot.
Pickford took no chances when Alonso bent a free-kick to the keeper’s left shortly after the restart, touching the ball to safety.
Havertz then used his hand to control Hudson-Odoi’s lobbed cross before steering home.
And from fleetingly fearing they’d fallen two goals down, Everton had a chance to draw level.
Tom Davies came on for Iwobi and his first touch was a return ball fed into the surging Sigurdsson.
Sigurdsson slid in Richarlison – precisely the man you’d have wanted the chance to fall to after four goals in his past four games – but an off-key first touched forced the striker wide and he thrashed past the near post.
Pickford used his fingertips to turn over Hudson-Odoi’s rising drive and James was narrowly wide with a low strike.
Chelsea were having the better of it without necessarily stamping any authority on game.
But all that changed with 25 minutes remaining.
Kovacic drifted a 60-yard pass to find Havertz darting behind Everton’s backline.
Havertz’s touch nudged the ball past Pickford, who committed the foul. The contact wasn’t especially strong but there was no question about the decision.
Jorginho sent Pickford the wrong way from the spot, prompting a change in tack from Ancelotti.
King replaced Sigurdsson and Everton switched to a back-four, Holgate moving to the right.
Gomes made way for Bernard, too, and, with Chelsea content to operate on the counter-attack, a chunk of the closing 20 minutes was contested in the home team’s half.
Davies walloped a shot into Kurt Zouma’s giant frame and a flurry of corners caused alarm for Chelsea without forging clear opportunities.
Werner twice wriggled free to bring terrific stops from Pickford – second time round substitute N’Golo Kante fired the rebound on target but was thwarted by another excellent save.
Chelsea sent eight of their 18 shots on target and in Pickford more often than not met their match.
The two occasions they did break through, however, were enough to settle the game.