Chelsea 5 - 0 Everton
“Remember, remember the 5th of November…” but after watching a horror show almost as bad as anything served up last season — the margin of defeat may not have been as big at Anfield in April but nothing could be worse than Everton’s utter capitulation in the last Merseyside derby — every Evertonian will want to forget this match as quickly possible. You’re left hoping though that it will come to represent a painful but important marker in the story of this season that we’ll look back on in the future as some sort of turning point.
You’ve got to believe that our heaviest defeat since the 6-1 humiliation at home to Arsenal in 2009 marks an early nadir for Ronald Koeman’s tenure; an evening when the Toffees came up against a Chelsea team at the very top of its game, and in full flow following four successive victories won with 11 unanswered goals; an occasion where both teams got exactly what they deserved and Koeman will have learned an awful lot about what he’s got and what he still needs.
Make no mistake, Chelsea were excellent — genuine-title-contenders excellent — to the point where you found yourself wondering which was more frightening: just how much better Chelsea were in every department or just how badly Everton played. For as good as the home side were, Everton were atrocious in the context of the strong start they made under Koeman, the money he has spent and his European aspirations.
A solitary effort on goal in the entire 90 minutes was the sum total of Everton’s attacking efforts which, even allowing for Chelsea’s superiority and dominance, is fairly damning. Ross Barkley, seemingly rejuvenated by his performance against West Ham, was occasionally involved but largely ineffective; a couple of early forays apart Yannick Bolasie, the Blues’ chief supplier in recent weeks, was anonymous until he was substituted for Aaron Lennon who wasn’t much better; Tom Cleverley was mobile and willing but offered a pale imitation of the suspended Idrissa Gueye; and Kevin Mirallas, a 36th-minute introduction in place of Bryan Oviedo as Koeman ditched his three-man defence, showed brief promise before lapsing into an all-too familiar lack of end product.
And then there was Romelu Lukaku who shared the pre-match limelight with Diego Costa as the press billed a clash between two of the Premier League’s star strikers but was ultimately and completely eclipsed by the Spanish international. The contrast between the two in terms of style, role in the team and effectiveness was stark in a game in which the Belgian’s touch, when he wasn’t vainly chasing shadows, largely deserted him and he looked clumsy and isolated.
Costa, on the other hand, recovered from a heavy Seamus Coleman tackle that drew blood through his sock to lead Chelsea’s line with purpose and drive, setting up the first goal, scoring the third, forcing a decent save from Maarten Stekelenburg, driving another effort into the side netting, and nearly making it 6-0 before Ashley Williams denied him with a terrific last-ditch tackle.
That last moment was indicative of what was a chequered outing for Williams who, like Phil Jagielka and Ramiro Funes Mori, looked all at sea trying to adjust to the 3-5-2 formation Koeman seemed to have deployed. The Welsh skipper looked consummate cart-horse centre-half (with all the speed and grace of one) for spells but was in others the only defender who really seemed to be carrying out his duties. Jagielka, sadly, followed up on his faltering displays at the Etihad and Turf Moor with more worrying evidence that he has "gone", in the Osman, Pienaar and Howard sense of the word.
That confusion over positioning was certainly evident for Chelsea’s first goal though as Eden Hazard picked up Costa’s pass into the left channel just as the retreating Coleman tried to switch places with Williams and cut the Belgian midfielder off at the byline. It was all the invitation Hazard needed to cut inside onto his right foot and aim a shot at the far corner. Stekelenburg should have saved it but was slow to get his arms down, the ball flew under them and inside the upright.
Unforgivably, Everton lost the ball at the restart and 24 seconds later, the ball was in the back of Stekelenburg’s net again. Hazard was the beneficiary, picking it up in the centre circle, sliding a pass between Funes Mori and Oviedo to Pedro who centred it first time where Marco Alonso arrived to side-foot through the goalkeeper’s legs.
That double-blow made it 2-0 with just 20 minutes gone and there was no way back for Everton with Antonio Conte’s men in this kind of mood. It was almost 3-0 11 minutes before the break when Alonso’s chipped cross picked out Victor Moses but the reborn Nigerian slammed a first-time shot off the outside of the post. The inevitable arrived eight minutes later, however, when all of the practice defending set-pieces that Koeman said had been a focus this week at Finch Farm was unravelled by a near-post flick-on by Nemanja Matic that ended at the feet of Costa, unmarked at the back of the area. Slow to react, Lukaku just waved his foot meekly in front of the Brazilian-born striker as he buried a first-time shot into the vacant net behind him.
If there’s one thing that seems to have been lost in the transition between the Martinez and Koeman eras it’s Everton’s ability to pass and move the ball consistently. While the Catalan’s modus operandi was overkill possession, the Dutchman appears to have built the current team to counter-attack which means it’s no longer adept at keeping the ball for any sustained period.
Nonetheless, they made a pretty good fist of trying to settle things down in the first few minutes of the second half with some confidence-inspiring ball-retention, even if it didn’t get them close to the opposition goal. Then, as if to further illustrate the differences between the two teams, as soon as Chelsea got it back and mounted their first attack they almost scored, Williams snuffing out an opportunity for Costa after he had driven straight through the heart of the visitors’ midfield.
Where Everton searched in vain for space and willing runners, Conte’s team were all pace, movement and guile and they always seemed to have a man over. However grudgingly Evertonians admit it, their fourth goal was a thing of beauty. Hazard played a one-two with Pedro who back-heeled the ball back to him brilliantly and with Williams back on his heels, the diminutive Belgian cut across him and drilled a low shot inside the near post with Stekelenburg rooted to the spot.
By that stage it was merely a question of how many Chelsea would score. Lennon replaced Bolasie on the hour mark but little changed and more trickery from Hazard almost served up goal no.5 for Costa but though the striker connected with his chipped cross with a volley, Stekelenburg parried it over the bar.
Two minutes later it was 5-0. Lukaku was unable to bring in a return ball from Barry in the Chelsea half and when it was turned over back to the hosts, Costa hared off again towards the Toffees’ area and laid a pass off to Hazard once more. His shot was saved by Stekelenburg but the ball dropped straight to Pedro who had the simple task of tapping in from close range.
Surprisingly, that ended the scoring for Conte’s side but there would be nothing in the way of a consolation goal for the away fans to take back to Merseyside. Tom Davies came on for Barry following the latter’s booking a few minutes earlier for a frustrated late tackle on Pedro and came off the pitch at the final whistle as arguably Everton’s man of the match, doing his chances of replacing the suspended Barry against Swansea no harm at all.
He won the corner from which Mirallas narrowly missed with a glancing header that drifted inches over the angle of crossbar and post but asking more of an 18-year-old defensive midfielder was probably too much. Instead it was Chelsea who almost added to the scoreline, Luiz forcing an acrobatic finger-tip save from Stekelenburg and Moses then being denied by the Dutch ‘keeper in stoppage time.
International breaks have become painfully inconvenient and unwanted disruptions to the flow of the Premier League season but Everton will surely welcome this one as an opportunity to reset and refocus after an awful result. If Koeman does anything, he and his staff should study the tapes from Everton’s visits to Manchester City and Chelsea and analyse firstly, the difference between today’s porous calamity of a defence and the tenacious, space-defying back line that contained City so effectively last month; and, secondly, how those two opposition teams move the ball so effectively with speed and precision.
A home game against struggling Swansea will offer another chance to return to winning ways and regain some momentum but it’s days like today that underline in no uncertain terms just how far Everton have to go to match the likes of Chelsea in terms of quality. In that respect, Koeman has a long road ahead on what he has openly admitted has a two-year time horizon but in the meantime he has to do better at getting the most out of what he already has at his disposal. On this evidence, there is far more room for improvement than we realised.
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