Everton 3 - 1 Chelsea
After their dogged pursuit of John Stones over the last month of the summer transfer window and Everton's steadfast refusal to sell their prodigiously talented defender, it was deliciously fitting that the first visitors to Goodison Park following the deadline would be Chelsea.
That Jose Mourinho's side were struggling in the very areas of the pitch that the Portuguese was trying so hard to address by signing him added another dimension to an occasion that promised – and delivered – a raucous atmosphere inside Goodison Park and a stirring performance from the home side.
If there were any observers left questioning why Chelsea had ended up lodging four separate bids for a 21-year-old with just a handful of England caps to his name, Stones would have left them in no doubt after today as he rubbed Mourinho's nose in it with a majestic peformance of staggering maturity given the circumstances and the quality of the opposition.
A late booking picked up for impishly kicking the ball away may have been the only betrayal of his comparatively tender years, while a delightfully audacious Cruyff turn past Pedro inside his own area perfectly illustrated why the young lad from Barnsley has become the hottest English property in his position.
On another day, talk of Stones's performance and the response it represented to the summer's biggest transfer saga might have dominated the aftermath of this tremendous Everton victory. The headlines were deservedly stolen, however, by Steven Naismith who scored his first competitive hat-trick in Everton colours to stun the reigning Champions and deliver a vital victory to Roberto Martinez.
Like Stones, he too might not have been on the team sheet today had the Blues not dug their heels in to keep an important player on the books by rejecting a deadline-day offer from Norwich City. Furthermore, he might not have even been in a position to become the first player in the Premier League to score three times in the same game against a Chelsea team managed by Mourinho were it not for Muhamed Besic's misfortune to be struck down by Goodison's hamstring curse just minutes into the game.
The substitution enforced on Martinez in the ninth minute introduced to the contest a player who relishes the big occasion and Naismith grabbed the opportunity with both hands, scoring twice in five first-half minutes to put Everton 2-0 up and then finished off a fine move to deliver the hammer blow to the Londoners eight minutes from the end after Nemanja Matic's impressive strike had kept Chelsea alive during the second half.
In truth, Naismith and Stones were the headline acts of a quite brilliant Everton display, one under-pinned by excellence all over the park.
Phil Jagielka was an immovable presence alongside his younger protege in central defence, the pair of them keeping Diego Costa in their pocket throughout and largely marshalling Hazard into areas where he couldn't trouble Tim Howard in the Blues' goal. The Spanish striker had run amok in this fixture last season; a year on he was left a scowling picture of frustration with just one shot to his name.
Brendan Galloway, inconceivably still 19 years of age, turned in arguably his most comprehensive performance yet since graduating to the senior side at the end of last season in what is essentially an unfamiliar fullback role, grabbing a superb assist and adding further weight to the belief that he could soon merit comparison with Stones's stratospheric reputation.
Gareth Barry, who has betrayed signs this season that age is catching up with him and that the defensive midfield axis he forms with James McCarthy has become something of a hindrance, was a commanding presence orchestrating proceedings from in front of the back four while his partner chased and harried.
Continuing his impressive start to the new season, Ross Barkley weighed in with another mature showing and a couple of assists of his own while Arouna Kone and Romelu Lukaku, either of whom might have scored on another day, played a vital supporting role up front, acting as the decoys and distractions that allowed Naismith to plunder a memorable treble.
Despite Chelsea's sluggish start to the season and the defensive issues with which Mourinho has been wrestling, few might have predicted the magnitude of the overall performance and victory in the early going. Despite adding Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon to his squad over the summer and taking his tally of wingers to five, Martinez had strung three defensive midfielders across the centre of the park behind a forward three of Barkley, Lukaku and Kone.
As demonstrated against the so-called bigger teams in the past, the Catalan is not averse to mixing up his formations and while there some disgruntled reactions to another starting XI seemingly devoid of width, Besic's first and, sadly, only burst forward down the left flank suggested that Martinez had more enterprising ambitions than just sitting three defensively-minded players in front of his back four. Given that the Bosnian lasted just nine minutes, the majority of those under a cloud of frustration as he first received treatment and then tried to run the injury off, we'll never know and what followed from his replacement will go down in Goodison folklore.
Certainly, the Blues responded to the atmosphere inside the stadium with a purposeful and composed start to the game as they zipped the ball about confidently and established a rhythm that would result in a fine opening goal after 16 minutes. As the ball was worked neatly through the centre of midfield, Galloway stole down the left flank to collect Naismith's pass and it was his pin-point cross that met the Scot's rapier-like run between two visiting defenders where he steered a deft header into the roof of Asmir Begovic's net.
It was apparent that Everton were in one of those moods last witnessed in these parts when Manchester United were demolished 3-0 at the tail end of last season and were it not for a flying save from Begovic, it might have been 2-0 just minutes later. Kone rose to meet Seamus Coleman's cross from the right but the Bosnian 'keeper managed to paw his header past the far post.
The second goal was not long in coming, though. Great work by Lukaku on the right touchline ended with him passing infield and when Naismith found himself with space to engineer a shot from 25 yeards out he picked his spot beautifully with a crisp left footer that glided into the far corner. If there was one thing that Martinez's Everton of 2013-14 had for the most part it was confidence and the Blues' No.14 exemplified its apparent return.
They're still blighted by a propensity to leave gaps behind the fullbacks and a failure to adequately press the ball at times and while they got away with it when Cezar Azpilicueta popped up in oceans of space in the right back area vacated by Coleman and Stones recovered well to block the ball behind for a corner, they were not so fortunate in the 36th minute. With Barkley a spectator and McCarthy withdrawn to the edge of his own area, Matic had the freedom to line up a shot from 30 yards and proceeded to welly it emphatically past Tim Howard to halve Everton's lead.
A robust response from Chelsea would have been expected and it resulted rather unnervingly in the home side losing all their momentum while the visitors forced a flurry of corners and went close when John Terry headed narrowly over, Branislav Ivanovic almost turned Hazard's low shot in amongst a crowded box, and Jagielka deflected an effort from Costa behind.
Everton's defence held firm going into the break, however, and they emerged from half time in similarly resolute mood. Indeed, they succeeded in largely snuffing Chelsea's much-vaunted attack out and nearly increased their advantage when Lukaku was played in but Begovic blocked his effort from the angle and referee Andre Marriner bottled a hairy decision over what looked to be a backpass by Terry in his own six-yard box.
Desperate to score a point-proving goal against the manager who sold him, Lukaku hammered a shot into the side-netting, Barkley spurned a very promising counter-attack opportunity with a poor final ball to Kone and Lukaku forced another save from Begovic from another tight angle as the Blues remained on the offensive.
One more saving tackle from Jagielka shut down a counter from Chelsea and substitute Radamel Falcao fluffing his lines with a close-range header represented the death throes from Mourinho's men before Naismith put the icing on the cake by finishing off a brilliantly-constructed third goal.
Stones, now operating at right back after Coleman had been withdrawn with an injury of his own, was involved in a quick-fire passing move that went through substitute Aaron Lennon and James McCarthy before Barkley drove towards the box and slipped a pass in for Naismith who took two touches before firing under the goalkeeper's legs from the angle to complete his hat-trick. He was, predictably, mobbed by his teammates – including a beaming Stones – and Goodison erupted into a repertoire of songs at full volume to see out the last 10 minutes or so of action which featured an encouraging cameo from Ramiro Funes Mori.
As the likes of Arsenal, United, Lille and Wolfsburg have found to their cost over the past couple of seasons, when Martinez's Everton are firing on all cylinders, in the mood and backed by a bouncing Goodison, there's not much to do but get flattened by the juggernaut. Since assuming the role, the manager has overseen some wonderful victories and made Evertonians believe that the School of Science really is on its way back.
Today, the Toffees shrugged off the supporters disappointment with what felt like unfinished summer transfer business with the failure to add that sought-after "No.10" with an irresistable performance; the key now, as before, is to carry this result forward against the kinds of teams who will make things a good deal more difficult in the final third than Chelsea did today.
What this result will breed, however, is confidence – that precious commodity that was so instrumental in carrying Everton to a fifth-place finish in Martinez's first season in charge. Retain that, weather the injury storm and the Blues stand a good chance of coming through this difficult run of 10 matches to start the season in very good shape vis-a-vis a challenge for Europe.
Man of the Match: Steven Naismith
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